It's 1944. Physics professor Alfred Mendel and his family are trying to flee Paris when they are caught and forced onto a train along with thousands of other Jewish families. At the other end of the long, torturous train ride, Alfred is separated from his family and sent to the men's camp, where all of his belongings are tossed on a roaring fire. His books, his papers, his life's work. The Nazis have no idea what they have just destroyed. And without that physical record, Alfred is one of only two people in the world with his particular knowledge. Knowledge that could start a war - or end it.
Nathan Blum works behind a desk at an intelligence office in Washington, DC, but he longs to contribute to the war effort in a more meaningful way, and he has a particular skill set the US suddenly needs. Nathan is fluent in German and Polish, and he proved his scrappiness at a young age when he escaped from the Krakow ghetto. Now the government wants him to take on the most dangerous assignment of his life: Nathan must sneak into Auschwitz on a mission to find and escape with one man.
This historical thriller from New York Times best seller Andrew Gross is a deeply affecting, pause-resisting series of twists and turns through a landscape at times horrifyingly familiar but still completely compelling.
"Actor Ballerini turns the scene into a fascinating radio drama...These conversational moments, delicately crafted by Gross and splendidly performed by Ballerini, have a profound effect on the novel's equally well-enacted, action-filled, breathless escape sequence." (Publishers Weekly)
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You gotta have a STRONG stomach.
I certainly would, although with one major proviso. Most of the activity in the book takes place at Auschwitz. Mr. Gross does not spare us any detail at all, and so squeamish readers really should not listen to this. And this is a shame, in a way, because the book is brilliant, and Mr. Ballerini's narration is once again thrilling. I will spare you the specifics of the plot, as it twists and turns in challenging ways. Constant readers may remember that I have said that I had had enough of WWII. It was seventy years ago, and we have had countless works of literature, movies and art of all kinds to remind us of the horrors. You cannot avoid them here. What actually happened in the camps is shown under a blazing, bright light. Just a plot overview: Nathan Bloom, a refugee from Warsaw who now works in the US, is called by FDR himself to sneak INTO Auschwitz, to find one of the two masters of the world in a science which I can't begin to understand. However, Robert Oppenheimer, Fermi and the others at Los Alamos have told the president that this one man, Alfred Mendel, could reduce the research time required to develop the bomb by six months. FDR agrees, and he and his staff ask Nathan if he will get in, find Professor Mendel, get him out, and fly back to England and then to New Mexico. It is one hell of a story, which truly has you gripping the arms of your chair until the very end.
Yes. As above, the mission is quite complicated, and a large number of characters contribute to the action. There is so much going on that it is almost impossible to keep track of the many threads. There is a small subplot involving a married woman named Greta, wife of the monster second-in-command of the camp, and a young boy named Leo. Leo is a chess champion, and he is also the possessor of a very extensive photographic memory. This ability of his turns out to be supremely important at the end of the book.
I have probably listened to fifty or sixty of his performances. He has been my favorite reader for years now, and this book is fully deserving of his extraordinary talents. Except for a few books which are about the history of Italy, I have enjoyed almost all of the books he has read. This is not his greatest, but it's up there. If you would like to listen to something completely different, with no violence whatever, try Beautiful Ruins. And from there, just search for his performances, and you will no doubt come to appreciate him as I do. Some very popular narrators would kill to have anything like the skills that this man has.
Yes. I will not spoil the moments. There is one that is very near the end. There is another involving Leo and Greta, and one that comes close to the end, in which Greta and her repulsive husband have it out, so to speak.
It must be quite clear how much I enjoyed this book. I am truly sorry to reach the end of it. I still feel like I have had enough of WWII, but apparently there are a number of authors who are creating fresh material, and doing it in exciting ways. And speaking of wars, a book that has lifted me right out of my chair recently is Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain. I have reviewed it elsewhere. It is about the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, and, IMHO, it is the modern-day Catch 22. A true masterpiece. If you haven't read it, you are in for an amazing treat.
- Richard Delman
- Mary Mc