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Warburg in Rome Hardcover – July 1, 2014
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*Starred Review* Carroll, winner of the National Book Award for An American Requiem (1996) and the PEN/Galbraith Award for House of War (2006), both nonfiction, has also written numerous novels in multiple genres. Here he combines fact and fiction in a historical thriller. Carroll makes clear in an author’s note that, while the “main characters and their story” are fictional, everything else in the book, centering on the treatment of Italian Jews during and after WWII, and including a Vatican plot called the “ratline,” which secretly relocated Nazi war criminals to Argentina, is based on fact. This author’s note, which appears at the end of the novel, might have been better placed at the beginning, since what Carroll describes is so horrifying (as in details on a children’s concentration camp) as to seem fictional. The man who encounters this tangle of evil is David Warburg, sent to Rome by the U.S. War Refugee Board at the end of WWII to help bring aid to the European Jews arriving in Rome. Warburg has two guides to the inferno of postwar Rome: a woman Red Cross worker and a young American priest. Their efforts are met, first with bureaucratic roadblocks, and later with full-out betrayal. Carroll’s depictions of the chaos in Rome, along with his insights into the Vatican ratline, are unforgettable. Recommend this utterly engaging thriller to fans of Joseph Kanon’s The Good German (2001) and James R. Benn’s Death’s Door (2012). --Connie Fletcher
"Carroll, winner of the National Book Award for An American Requiem (1996) and the PEN/Galbraith Award for House of War (2006), both nonfiction, has also written numerous novels in multiple genres. Here he combines fact and fiction in a historical thriller. Carroll makes clear in an author’s note that, while the “main characters and their story” are fictional, everything else in the book, centering on the treatment of Italian Jews during and after WWII, and including a Vatican plot called the “ratline,” which secretly relocated Nazi war criminals to Argentina, is based on fact. This author’s note, which appears at the end of the novel, might have been better placed at the beginning, since what Carroll describes is so horrifying (as in details on a children’s concentration camp) as to seem fictional. The man who encounters this tangle of evil is David Warburg, sent to Rome by the U.S. War Refugee Board at the end of WWII to help bring aid to the European Jews arriving in Rome. Warburg has two guides to the inferno of postwar Rome: a woman Red Cross worker and a young American priest. Their efforts are met, first with bureaucratic roadblocks, and later with full-out betrayal. Carroll’s depictions of the chaos in Rome, along with his insights into the Vatican ratline, are unforgettable. Recommend this utterly engaging thriller to fans of Joseph Kanon’s The Good German (2001) and James R. Benn’s Death’s Door (2012)."--Booklist, STARRED review
"A well-paced thriller from longtime Vatican watcher Carroll (Crusade, 2004, etc.) set in post–World War II Rome, with the Catholic Church athwart a tangle of scandalous politics and incriminating deeds.
"Sanctuary, Sister, is for the guilty. We may not like it, but there it is." So remarks an American monsignor, Kevin Deane, who’s working to provide relief to Italian Jews, even as others in the Vatican are seeking to extend that sanctuary to their Nazi persecutors. Into this conflict comes refugee coordinator David Warburg, a confidant of Henry Morgenthau, who has warned him that "[o]nce Mark Clark captures it, Rome will be the nerve center and the escape hatch both." If Morgenthau only knew how deeply tunneled that escape hatch was….Helping Warburg—or is she?—is a Red Cross worker named Marguerite d’Erasmo, who "came of age as if she were a nun" but who has hidden resources, to say nothing of secrets. Marguerite is a person of faith much shaken, for this is a time in which "the Madonna seemed indifferent to everyone but her Son," while Warburg is a coolly efficient explorer of the surprising alleys his quest takes him down—not just the Vatican "ratline" that sweeps Nazis out of the path of the conquering Allies (Rome, as Warburg sees it, is "halfway between Vienna and Buenos Aires"), but also a complex storyline that finds highly placed elements within the Vatican opposing Jewish immigration to Palestine on the grounds that by doing so, they are helping to preserve the Holy Land, even as others are aligned with the revived cause of Zionism. Carroll blends a solid command of modern history with a sense for the varieties of evil that have inhabited it—not just the villains, but also the bureaucrats who have self-servingly helped them along and the apologists who have made the world safe for both classes of people.
Though without the white-knuckle tension of Graham Greene’s The Third Man, a yarn that’s of a piece with it—and a worthy successor."--Kirkus Reviews
"Warburg In Rome creates the atmosphere of a thriller with deeply serious historical undertones - the immediate aftermath of the German occupation of Rome. And the laying down of the infamous ratlines that allowed Nazi principals to escape allied capture with aid from the church. And Roosevelt's belated plan to save Jews still in Nazi territory. That's the history part. Fiction enters with a main character named David Warburg, a secular American Jew from northern New England. Roosevelt has charged him with directing the U.S. War Refugee Board and sends him on a mission to Rome, just after the Nazi retreat. Plenty of other strong characters gather around Warburg - some to help and some to disrupt. There's American priest, whom New York's ambitious Cardinal Spellman has assigned to advance his purposes, while in Rome and 24-year-old Marguerite D’Erasmo, a half-French, half-Italian beauty, whom Warburg finds both attractive and useful for his own plans. She's been working in tandem with a group of resisting priests and local Jewish leaders to save the lives of Jews still in fascist captivity. A long struggle ensues to find justice and love in the wake of the war. But the novel remains consistently entertaining, never didactic - even as a reader moves along, hip-deep in the history of the period."Alan Cheuse, All Things Considered
"Former priest Carroll (An American Requiem) returns with this complex and compelling novel of the Vatican and morality during World War II. The happenings here are dark indeed, and it’s often difficult to believe that the novel is based on real-life events. Lawyer David Warburg comes to Rome to help set up and direct the new U.S. War Refugee Board, an effort that aims to help European Jews rebuild their lives as the war comes to a close. In the course of his humanitarian work, he meets Marguerite d’Erasmo, a Red Cross worker who is motivated by much more than meets the eye. Soon David learns of the Vatican ratline, a system that the Church used to smuggle Nazi war criminals to safety in Argentina. No longer sure whom to trust, he turns to U.S. Intelligence, only to find that the ratline isn’t much of a secret after all. VERDICT This is a fresh look at a scandalous chapter of history, and one that reminds us that even when the war was over, the horrors were not. Sensitive readers should beware, as there are some graphic and extremely unsettling scenes. This book deserves a wide readership, and should especially appeal to readers interested in political and religious history."--Library Journal
"James Carroll’s 'Warburg in Rome' has many of the ingredients of a great spy thriller: a high-stakes battle between good and evil; a plot full of twists and turns; a cultural capital both seductive and corrupt; characters caught in ethical thickets; and a moment of existential crisis when all the world’s troubles seem to converge on a single point on the map, bringing out the best and the worst in all who happen to find themselves at the fractured center of civilization."--The Boston Globe"A gripping political thriller set in a world of troubling moral complexity."--WBUR
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I read a wide mix of fiction and non fiction with a bit of focus on history. The Boston Globe reviewer commented that if Carroll had wanted to write a history book he should have done so rather than trying to bury history lessons in fiction or in supposed discussions or arguments between characters. To me, the point of good historical fiction is that the author stays close to the facts of history and then attempts to impart how these facts of history may have impacted the actions and feelings of people through the creation of hi/her characters. James Carroll did that in this book. A side note to my pleasure in the book comes from the fact that he did mention the Safe Haven established in Oswego, NY. The creation of this Haven was a too little done a little too late, but it was the only ever done to my knowledge anyplace at any time. I wasn't even born at the time but it is a part of the history of the city in which I was born. There is a museum there now dedicated to that history that is small quite excellent.
World War II was the "good war." But the more I read about it, the more I wonder just how good it actually was. Lots of killing, of course, but that's always the down side of any conflict. After reading dozens (hundreds?) of tomes on the political, diplomatic, and social aspects of the war, I don't seem any closer to finding out who the good guys really were. Of course the Allied cause was just, but after the horrors of the Holocaust the Brits battled to keep the Jews out of Palestine. Meanwhile, Americans paved the way for certain Nazis to emigrate to the U.S., provided they helped us develop ever more destructive weapons. And how many Jews did we allow to emigrate to the U.S. during the war - one boat load? On the other hand, the Catholic church was pure as the driven snow - Nazis to Argentina, for example. Partisans good? Well, how about those who turned out to be Communists?
Since the author, James Carroll, left the Catholic priesthood in disgust, I was certain he would have a totally unbiased view of the church's role in the war. Surprisingly he seemed at least partially unbiased. Pope Pius XII a Nazi? Well, no, but I hoped for a definitive view on the Pope's role in the war and postwar periods. I want to get all these folks lined up as either black or white hats. No such luck. Indeed, the church did provide assistance to the Nazis during the war, but the idea was to help them crush the Communists. Just say no to Soviet control of the Eastern European nations, especially since they were primarily Catholic.
"Warburg in Rome" is a fascinating book. It takes a slice of World War II, then mixes fictional characters into a real-time scenario - Rome during and immediately after the war, the question of European refugees (mostly Jewish?), role of the church, U.S. interests, postwar chaos - even Cardinal Spellman makes a cameo appearance. The major characters - Warburg, Marguerite D'Erasmo, Monsignor Kevin Deane, Colonel Peter Mates - represent competing/cooperating elements in the mixture. Bordered on five stars, but some of the major characters weren't sufficiently developed - although the political/diplomatic angles were well covered.
steely in supporting the Aussweg, the German name for their safe path out of Europe and into South America..
Interwoven within this, the Author puts in some characters who fight the losing battle against the stalwarts of the Church.
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