Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Wayfaring Stranger by James Lee Burke




In his most ambitious work yet, New York Times bestseller James Lee Burke tells a classic American story through one man's unforgettable life—connecting a fateful encounter with Bonnie and Clyde to heroic acts at the Battle of the Bulge and finally to the high-stakes gambles and cutthroat players who ushered in the dawn of the American oil industry.

In 1934, sixteen-year-old Weldon Avery Holland happens upon infamous criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow after one of their notorious armed robberies. A confrontation with the outlaws ends with Weldon firing a gun and being unsure whether it hit its mark. 

Ten years later, Second Lieutenant Weldon Holland barely survives the Battle of the Bulge, in the process saving the lives of his sergeant, Hershel Pine, and a young Spanish prisoner of war, Rosita Lowenstein—a woman who holds the same romantic power over him as the strawberry blonde Bonnie Parker, and is equally mysterious. The three return to Texas where Weldon and Hershel get in on the ground floor of the nascent oil business.


In just a few years’ time Weldon will spar with the jackals of the industry, rub shoulders with dangerous men, and win and lose fortunes twice over. But it is the prospect of losing his one true love that will spur his most reckless, courageous act yet—one that takes its inspiration from that encounter long ago with the outlaws of his youth. 

A tender love story and pulse-pounding thriller that crosses continents and decades of American history, Wayfaring Stranger “is a sprawling historical epic full of courage and loyalty and optimism and good-heartedness that reads like an ode to the American Dream” (Benjamin Percy, Poets & Writers).

A Wayfaring Stranger is set during the Great Depression in the state of Texas. A young boy, Weldon Holland, lives with his mentally ill mother and grandfather. At an early age, he meets Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow as they hid out on his grandfather's property. Haunted by Bonnie's beauty, and when his grandfather shot at their fleeing vehicle, he never forget this  encounter as it helped shape his future. As Weldon matures he leaves Texas to fight in World War II and in a concentration camp, he rescues a woman named Rosita, whom he falls in love with her, and after losing contact, he sets out to search for her again, and marries her, unaffected by her Jewish / Communist background. Together, they set up their lives in Texas.  

Weldon meets the wealthy businessman Roy Wiseheart, recognized as a war hero despite the questionable circumstances. Their liaison with Roy and his wife Clara, sets of a dramatic chain of events that snowballed with each page and kept me gripping the edge of my seat until the very satisfying ending. Every character is highly complex, larger than life, with profoundly detailed backstories. Astounding dialogue, myriad twists and turns, multiple shocks and surprises, an endearing love story, and brilliant prose kept me so thrilled that I did not want to put the book down. 

James Lee Burke is a talented author and he's written a book that has it all! It is very much a story about right and wrong, of standing by one's personal convictions, and of always being wary of strangers and their motives. Truly, this book is so visual, it plays out like a gripping movie. Very highly recommended!

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