From the author of Tasa’s Song, an extraordinary narrative about one young immigrant’s triumph in America, inspired by true events.
1938. Eli Stoff and his parents, Austrian Jews, escape to America just after Germany takes over their homeland. Within five years, Eli enlists in the US Army and, thanks to his understanding of the German language and culture, joins thousands of others like him who become known as Ritchie boys, young men who work undercover in Intelligence on the European front to help the Allies win World War II. In A Ritchie Boy, different characters tell interrelated stories that, together, form a cohesive narrative about the circumstances and people Eli encounters from Vienna to New York, from Ohio to Maryland to war-torn Europe, before he returns to the heartland of his new country to set down his roots.
Set during the dawn of World War II and the disruptive decade to follow, A Ritchie Boy is the poignant, compelling tale of one young immigrant's triumph over adversity as he journeys from Europe to America, and from boyhood to manhood.
Kass's heartfelt if diffuse companion piece to her debut, Tasa's Song, is inspired by the German-speaking U.S. Army recruits who trained for intelligence operations at Camp Ritchie in Maryland during WWII. In 2016, widower Eli Stoff receives a letter addressing him as "Ritchie Boy," inviting him to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the camp's opening, where he'd trained in 1944. The letter opens a flood of memories, from his recently deceased wife, Tasa, to his early years in Austria. Kass then flashes back to 1938 Vienna, where Eli, who is Jewish, and his lifelong friend, Toby Wermer, who is not, are harassed while on a ski trip. After German troops march into Vienna, Eli's parents decide they must get their family out of the country. They settle in Columbus, Ohio, and, after the U.S. enters the war, Eli, now a college student, struggles over whether he should enlist like his friends. Two years later, he's drafted and ends up at Camp Ritchie. After Paris is liberated, Eli interrogates Nazis arrested there for impersonating Allied officers. He's particularly affected by his questioning of teenager Malcolm Schlick, who reminds him of Toby. After the war, Eli finishes college on the GI Bill and meets Tasa, a violinist and Polish immigrant. While Kass's episodic accounts are well-written, the discrete stories are disappointingly slack and don't do much to illuminate character motivation. The result is a chain of events with very little linking them together.