LIBERATION ROAD - David L Robbins
LIBERATION ROAD is billed as a novel of World War II, but it's really a story of two men. Rabbi Ben Kahn is a Chaplain with the American Army in France - his personal crusade is to find out what happened to his son - a missing fighter pilot. Joe Amos is a black truck driver on the Red Ball, supplying the military machine, somehow not quite equal to those he is fighting with. Whilst Joe and Ben, in separate parts of the same theatre for most of the story, struggle with their own personal demons, an American man makes his fortune in the Black Market in Paris. Is this mysterious Chien Blanc Ben's missing son?
The concentration of LIBERATION ROAD is on Joe and Ben's individual wars. There's a very intimate, personal feeling to their stories which makes this the sort of book that the characters are absolutely central to. There's little by way of coverage of the full horror of the Second World War to the local people, or any acknowledgment of the rest of the Allies fighting. There are some small cameo's by two local French people in Joe's story - a romantic attachment in particular which could be seen as poignant on the face of it, but as it ends, there's little opportunity to understand what war has done to those locals trying to simply survive in such appalling circumstances. Whilst Joe and Ben struggle with the war that goes on around them - how to cope with the divide between white soldiers and black truck drivers; how to comfort the badly wounded and the dying; in Paris, Chien Blanc ruthlessly makes his money and lives as high a life as you possibly could under an occupation. The reader knows he is an American, but who is he really?
Ben and Joe slowly move towards each other (without knowing it), until a climax point of the book where the advance of the American Army is temporarily interrupted with profound results for both men. Ultimately, with LIBERATION ROAD the reader has to connect completely with Ben and Joe, be involved in their stories, their war; care whether Ben can ever find the truth about his son; whether Joe stays alive and gets home to his family; how their individual experience will affect both men for the rest of their lives.
1944. The Allies battle through Nazi-Occupied France, only the Red Ball Express - a massive convoy of trucks that serves as a fragile lifeline to the expanding front - supplies this immense effort.
Against this hellish backdrop the lives of two men are changed for ever.