Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Return to Germany for World War II

It's history week here at the blog.  Yesterday we visited the Civil War, and today we visit a very traumatic time in our not-too-distant history - World War II.  The Nazi era was rife with danger, intrigue, and just plain horror.  But we cannot forget the honor that the destruction of the Third Reich brought to our brave men, even though the price paid was far too high.  That's what we see today in the review of Echoes from the Infantry.

Book Summary:
Echoes From The Infantry is the tale of one Long Island World War II veteran, the misery of combat, and the powerful emotional bonds that brought him home to Rockaway Beach and the love of his life, Madeline Brandt. It is about a father and son, and their ultimately redeeming struggle to understand each other's worlds - one a world at war, the other shaped by its veterans. Nappi moves artfully between the present and past, weaving a fictionalized tale of this Long Islander's struggle to reconcile with the demons from long ago and his family's neverending battle with many of the intangible burdens caused by the private life of a man they never really knew. He touches our hearts with a story of courage and perseverance...a story of men who faced the greatest challenge of their generation.

My Review:
This novel was a powerful, yet emotionally painful read.  At times I teared up and other times got angry.  When a story draws out my emotions, I can usually look past the flaws and appreciate the depth of the tale.

John, Matthew, and Paul are the three sons of James and Madeline McCleary.  We open the prologue with the three sons gathering in their old family home to decide what to do with their father after their mother's passing.  There's a great deal of bitterness brewing under the surface, especially on the part of John, the oldest.  The three grown men had to put up with a distant, angry father all of their lives - none affected more than John.  As soon as John was old enough, he swept the dust of Rockaway Beach from his feet and moved all the way across the country to California.  Now he has a week to clear out the house, deal with his father, and sell the family home in order to get back to his own life.

But then, in the midst of cleaning out the packed, dusty attic, he finds the letters - and begins to read.

James and Madeline loved each other from the first moment they met at the A&P where James worked.  After James headed off to stop the Nazi advance in Europe, they wrote to one another every chance they had and dreamed of the day they would be reunited, married, and settle down to a life they'd planned.  But war has a way of changing everything - and everybody.

The story jumps back and forth in time.  For the most part, the transitions between the present and past were clearly delineated and didn't create a problem in reading.  The references to specific events James experienced as a young man at war were the most satisfying components of the story, the camaraderie between the soldiers, the scouting marches, the interactions with locals both in France and as the Battle of the Bulge took them into German territory, and when James was taken as a POW.  However, it was very difficult to read the recent past, the harshness with which James treated his oldest son, John, as he was growing up.  John wanted nothing more than to have his dad interact with him, to talk to him, play a game of catch, and simply to hug him.  But from John's point-of-view, none of this ever occurred.  Their emotional distance as adults is palpable.

But as John reads the letters between his mother and father, he begins to see a different man in his dad.  Something happened to James that made him a shell of the vibrant, young man he'd once been.  It is clear James still suffers from elements of PTSD.  In reading through these lines, John remembers back to several points in his own childhood where his interactions with his dad were both good and bad, such as when they vacationed as a family and then when John showed James his first grandchild.

However, there were times when the story spoke of the happy moments being set back just by John walking into the room - and it felt so illogical to read.  When James offered the old crib to John for their first child and John graciously refused because they had already purchased a crib, James clams up and gets mad.  We never find out if there is a back story to this crib and why it was so important to James.  Then when one of James' old battle buddies comes to visit and they are in the kitchen looking at pictures, laughing and reminiscing (much to John's surprise, since he's rarely heard his dad laugh, much less smile), John walks into the kitchen and James immediately glares at him and shuts down until John leaves the room.  The reasoning behind this treatment of his son is never explained either.

All along, I thought maybe John reminded James of someone from his past, perhaps an interaction with a young German soldier.  The story spoke many times of instances where someone reminded James of someone else throughout his travels in Europe as well as when he returned home and couldn't shake off the war.  This would have made sense, but by the time we get to the end of the story and find out what really happened to James, it is rushed through, not fully fleshed out, and then the story ends - very unsatisfying.  It made the lifetime of pain the two had experienced seem so calloused, not on John's part but James', and I don't think that was the intention.  It really felt like there was much more here to be said, but the way it ended left it too open, with too many loose ends, and too many unanswered questions.

Even so, I liked Echoes from the Infantry all the way up until the end.  It would be nice to see a revised edition with the ending drawn out just a bit and clarified to make it a truly satisfying read.

To read an excerpt of Echoes from the Infantry click this link http://www.goodreads.com/story/show/304983-excerpt-from-echoes-from-the-infantry

Follow the Tribute Books blog tour:
Frank Nappi's Bio:
Frank Nappi has taught high school English and Creative Writing for over twenty years. His debut novel, Echoes From The Infantry, received national attention, including MWSA's silver medal for outstanding fiction. His follow-up novel, The Legend of Mickey Tussler, garnered rave reviews as well, including a movie adaptation of the touching story "A Mile in His Shoes" starring Dean Cain and Luke Schroder. Frank continues to produce quality work, including Sophomore Campaign, the intriguing sequel to the much heralded original story and the just released thriller, Nobody Has to Know, which received an endorsement from #1 New York Times bestselling author Nelson DeMille. Frank is presently at work on a third installment of his Mickey Tussler series and his next thriller. He lives on Long Island with his wife Julia and their two sons, Nicholas and Anthony.  Visit his website at http://www.franknappi.com/

Price/Format: $3.99, ebook
Pages: 256
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release: October 13, 2005

Kindle buy link ($3.99):


  1. D A, thanks for the thoughtful look at Frank's book. The father and son relationship is painful to read. I felt for John too several times throughout the novel.

  2. Wasn't it? Oh, it felt all too real at times - made me cry and then filled me with anger. Such a heartfelt story.