From Publishers Weekly
The heart of this fine novel, Carroll's first in nine years, is spelled out in the book's epigraph, a line from Dostoyevski: "Real love, compared to fantasy, is a harsh and dreadful thing." Seventeen-year-old Michael Montgomery, crippled by polio, lives with his banker father, Paul, in Frankfurt, Germany. Ulrich "Rick" Healy is Michael's rebellious best friend, son of an American general, David Healy, and his German wife, Charlotte. Katharine "Kit" Carson is Rick's girlfriend, also an army brat. The year is 1961 and all three attend the American high school in Wiesbaden. Rick, a budding socialist and leader of the three, decides they should cut school and travel to Berlin to attend the great May Day parade in the Eastern sector. The trip begins as a lark, but descends into chaos after their capture by East German police on trumped up currency-fraud charges. Paul and Charlotte race to Berlin to rescue their children, unaware that Rick is carrying a secret roll of film that if discovered could ignite World War III. Carroll writes with rich, lyrical ease: "Clusters of spring flowers in every color wore the beads of the recent rain like a dust of glass." His characters are richly drawn, and the pieces of his impeccably paced story fit together with the cool precision of a Mercedes-Benz. He plays the cards of his plot perfectly, each new element a revelation, leaving the reader hungrily turning the pages until the riveting story is told and the lesson is learned, that real love is indeed a harsh and dreadful thing. A few electrifying days prove enough to transform the lives of these fascinating characters-and the world-forever.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Carroll, author of the best-selling memoir An American Requiem
(1996), returns to fiction with a cold war coming-of-age tale that captures both the particular tensions of the era and the universal yearnings of the young. Michael Montgomery is a 15-year-old American boy living in Frankfurt with his business executive father. A polio victim, Michael chafes under the restraint of both leg braces and his father's overprotective care (his mother's recent death is a constant source of unspoken grief between father and son). What better way for Michael to taste a little freedom than a verboten road trip to Berlin with his American school friends Katherine and Rick. Youthful rebellion turns serious when the teens are detained crossing into East Berlin (the Wall is days away from being erected). With an international incident threatened if Rick's stepfather's secret service connections are revealed, Michael's father and Rick's German mother rush to Berlin to intercede. There's much more to it than that, of course, and Carroll, telling the story in flashback through alternating narrators, ratchets the tension nicely while vividly evoking the cold war atmosphere and effectively contrasting the teens' naivete with the East Germans' realpolitik. Carroll's weakness for melodrama, apparent in his earlier novels, is noticeable here, too, especially in the personal relationships, but his page-turning readability provide satisfactory compensation. Entertaining popular fiction. Bill OttCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved