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IT COULD HAVE BEEN A CONTENDER...
on May 18, 2003
The author, who penned the classic international bestseller, "The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother", and was the recipient of the prestigious Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, now turns to a story inspired by an incident that took place during World War II in the war torn, Italian village of St. Anna di Stazzema in the region of Tuscany. This is a war yarn with a twist, as it features a certain segment of our nation's army at the time, the Buffalo Soldiers of the 92nd Division.
The Buffalo soldiers were men of color in the segregated army of yesteryear. On top of fighting enemy soldiers, they were also subjected not only to racist stereotyping but to poor battle decisions by their white commanding officers, which decisions reflected just how dispensable the army thought these Buffalo soldiers to be. This is a story primarily viewed through the eyes of these very soldiers.
In the town of St. Anna di Stazzema, something very bad happened, something that would affect all those who would encounter those connected to the town and its events. It would affect Germans, Americans, Italians, partisans, and collaborators in different ways. Its impact would carry through the years and last until the present day.
This is a story about those Buffalo soldiers, the village in Tuscany nestled in a war zone, the enemy soldiers, villagers, collaborators, and partisans whom they encounter. At the heart of all that transpires is a little Italian boy, traumatized by war, whose fate would touch all with whom he came in contact and who would be at the heart of the miracle that was to take place. It is through him that they all learn that miracles do, indeed, exist.
The book gets off to a great start. In present day New York, an older postal worker, for seemingly no reason, blows away a customer at point blank range with the single pull of a trigger. An investigative reporter runs with a lead and finds that the postal worker has, hidden in his home, a famous piece of statuary, an exquisitely sculpted head, which has been missing from a bridge in Italy since World War II. The mystery deepens.
The book then reverts to World War II and the cast of characters that are central to the story. It is here that the author runs into some difficulties. When a number of Buffalo soldiers get caught behind enemy lines, the story start to fall apart. Though it is an interesting story, it is simply dully told. Excruciatingly pedestrian in its telling, the book takes its toll on the reader, turning what could have been a vivid, riveting account into a soporific one.
It is not until towards the end of the book that the story again picks up and is able to deliver the same one two punch that it does in the beginning. By then, however, it is too late, and the book never reaches the promise so incipient in its beginning pages. Still, for those readers willing to put up with some disappointment, the book ultimately delivers at the end.