Wayfaring Stranger by James Lee Burke — review

At the heart of this superb novel is a chronicle covering one man’s life from boyhood in the 1930’s to his service during World War II and the years following when he started an oil pipeline business. During each phase of his life he encounters what is the essence of the novel, the evil that men do to each other. As a boy, Weldon Holland had a chance meeting with Bonnie and Clyde, the famous bank robbers. Later, during the Battle of the Bulge, he rescues his sergeant, Hershel Pine, who was buried by a Tiger Panzer in his foxhole beneath a pile of rubbish. The two are then isolated and have to hide from the Nazis, eventually finding a half-dead female survivor of a concentration camp, carrying her miles until they found someplace to hide.

The woman, Rosita, was Jewish, and Weldon fell in love with her, eventually marrying her and bringing her back to Texas, where he and Pine formed their successful partnership, the envy of established oil tycoons who coveted the business and threw everything but the kitchen sink at Weldon and Hershel to force them to sell, including massively attacking Rosita, smearing her name and worse.

The prose is rich and the literary allusions are exquisite. The descriptions of the early post-war era reek not only with nostalgia, but capture the times with deceptive simplicity. Weldon as a character provides an offsetting moralistic tone to the evil surrounding him and Rosita. Mr. Burke has transcended his past efforts by creating a saga worth reading time and again.

Highly recommended.

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