From young love to the Korean War, a boy’s coming of age is wrought with shattering trials in this “riveting, thoughtful and . . . harrowing” novel (The Washington Post).
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
Henry Childs is just seventeen when he falls into a love affair so intense it nearly destroys him. To escape the wrath of the young girl’s father, Henry joins the Marines, arriving in Korea on the eve of the brutal battle of the Chosin Reservoir—the defining moment of the Korean War. There he confronts an enemy force far beyond the scope of his imagining, but the challenges he meets upon his return home, scarred and haunted, are greater by far.
From the steamy streets of New Orleans to the bone-chilling Korean landscape, award-winning author Robert Olmstead takes us into one of the most physically challenging battles in history, as well as an electrifying, all-consuming love affair.
Olmstead's (Far Bright Star) elegiac, gritty coming-of-age novel is presented in three dramatic sections: Part I finds 17-year-old Henry Childs living with his mother, a nurse, in Appalachia, W.Va., during the spring of 1950. His father largely absent, Henry excels at baseball and grooms horses. He falls in love with the fanciful Mercy, the older daughter of a dictatorial judge, and the two elope to New Orleans, where he works as a janitor until Mercy's vindictive brother arrives to take her back. Part II begins with the heartbroken Henry enlisting as a Marine "hunter," armed with the fierce Browning Automatic, and dispatched to Korea, where he participates in the savage and decisive Chosin Reservoir campaign in frozen northeastern Korea. Snippets of male banter help to leaven the hellish brutality endured by Henry and fellow sniper pal Lew, a veteran of WWII. One year later, Part III opens with the shell-shocked Henry, only a bit older but significantly transformed, returning home to W. Va. up the Kanawha River, where the pain of his mounting personal losses threatens to overwhelm his sanity. Despite the narrative's darkening vision ("The Lord is a man of war," says Henry), enough redemption rescues Olmstead's powerful, desolate, and well-crafted novel from becoming oppressively bleak.