The Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Rick Atkinson shifts his focus from modern battlefields to the conflict that founded the United States in "The British Are Coming."
Atkinson is a longtime master of the set piece: Soldiers move into place, usually not quite understanding why, and are put into motion against each other to bloody result. He doesn’t disappoint here, in the first of a promised trilogy on the Revolutionary War. As he writes of the Battle of Bunker Hill, for instance, “Charlestown burned and burned, painting the low clouds bright orange in what one diarist called ‘a sublime scene of military magnificence and ruin,’ ” even as snipers fired away and soldiers lay moaning in heaps on the ground. At Lexington, British officers were spun in circles by well-landed shots while American prisoners such as Ethan Allen languished in British camps and spies for both sides moved uneasily from line to line. There’s plenty of motion and carnage to keep the reader’s attention. Yet Atkinson also has a good command of the big-picture issues that sparked the revolt and fed its fire, from King George’s disdain of disorder to the hated effects of the Coercive Acts. As he writes, the Stamp Act was, among other things, an attempt to get American colonists to pay their fair share for the costs of their imperial defense (“a typical American…paid no more than sixpence a year in Crown taxes, compared to the average Englishman’s twenty-five shillings”). Despite a succession of early disasters and defeats, Atkinson clearly demonstrates, through revealing portraits of the commanders on both sides, how the colonials “outgeneraled” the British, whose army was generally understaffed and plagued by illness, desertion, and disaffection, even if “the American army had not been proficient in any general sense.” A bonus: Readers learn what it was that Paul Revere really hollered on his famed ride.
Atkinson's latest is a sturdy, swift-moving contribution to the popular literature of the American Revolution.
(Atkinson will speak and sign his book at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Austin Central Library, 710 W. Cesar Chavez St. Information: bookpeople.com.)
A story for the strong
Barbara J. Dzikowski's "The Moonstoners" presents a tale of tormented and damaged characters against the backdrop of the turbulent 1960s.
The story revolves — no, churns — around Noël Trudeau, whom readers first meet as a youngster while her family is fleeing north from Hyssop, Louisiana, in the dead of night. Something truly horrible has happened, something that will remain secret for some 200 pages (this is a book of secrets). Then readers find Noël in Langston, Indiana, where she and her toddler son, Adam, have escaped a marriage to a brutal abuser and where young Ricky Ziemny is hopelessly in love with her. She begins timorously to allow the possibility of romance, but it is Ricky’s brother, Leon, whom she falls in love with and marries. The union is tempestuous: The Trudeaus are leery of Leon, the Ziemnys of Noël. Meanwhile — these are just the high (or low) points — her oldest brother is killed in Vietnam and her younger brother, Adam, who dreamed of becoming a surgeon, returns minus an arm. There are suicides, a mental breakdown, and screaming confrontations (especially as the long-held secrets come spilling out). An apothegm from Pascal sets the tone: “When one does not love too much, one does not love enough.” This sets the stage for Noël’s final musing on two kinds of love: “The love you could live with, and the love you couldn’t live without.” Given these truths, the characters are whipsawed big-time. Dzikowski is a passionate writer, and her background in counseling has likely contributed much to her prose and outlook. But one needn’t be a Pollyanna to sometimes shout: “Enough already! Enough trauma, enough heartbreak!” On the other hand, one cannot deny the real power of the book. Readers will be drawn into caring deeply about these terribly tortured characters and bracing for the next inevitable tragic turn. This is the first volume of a trilogy; may the sequels bring a measure of relief.
A gripping family story for those strong enough for the emotional journey.