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In his latest WWII novel, Robbins powerfully integrates the theme of racial bigotry from Scorched Earth with the successful formula of his previous three combat novels (The End of War, etc.). The 688th Truck Battalion is part of the famed Red Ball Express, which struggles to supply the fast-moving combat following D-Day as American forces fight through the French hedgerows and villages toward Paris. In recounting the battalion's heroic saga, Robbins's tale unfolds from several perspectives-that of Ben Kahn, an aging Jewish army chaplain from Pittsburgh, who fought as a doughboy in the trenches in WWI; Joe Amos, a young, black, college-educated truck driver; and "White Dog," a shadowy, corrupt downed B-17 pilot profiteering on the black market in German-occupied Paris. Bolstered by desperate hope he might find his son-a B-17 pilot shot down over France-Kahn lands on Omaha Beach five days after D-Day and hitches a ride to the front on a GI two-and-a-half ton Jimmy (GMC truck) with Amos. Both men are quickly seasoned by the horrors of war as Kahn heads for a showdown in Paris and Amos makes sergeant and finds romance with a Frenchwoman after shooting down a German plane. Although this isn't quite up to the standard of Robbins's best work-it's occasionally slowed by overwriting and repetition-it's a fine effort from an ambitious storyteller. Agent, Tracy Fisher at William Morris. (Jan. 4) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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In the months following the Normandy invasion of 1944, 6000 trucks and 23,000 men (the Red Ball Express) shuttled hundreds of thousands of tons of supplies between the beachheads and the front lines. Without these supplies, the Allied advance would have stopped short; the war, brutal enough as it was, would have been longer and even more costly. The heroes of Robbins's (The End of War) novel are neither the generals nor the front-line soldiers. Instead, they include a driver on the Red Ball Express who wants fiercely to fight on the front lines but is denied the opportunity because he's black and a burnout army rabbi who cannot perceive a caring God in the horror that surrounds him. Except for the last 50 pages, this plot device works, especially when Robbins describes the everyday grind of his protagonists' lives. Overall, a commendable though not essential addition to the literature of World War II; recommended for general collections.-David Keymer, Modesto, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.