Blue Light African Dream

Paul Watkins, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $18.95 (310p) ISBN 978-0-395-55136-3

An aviator mired in the Foreign Legion stays alive by dreaming the impossible in this exquisitely understated adventure. Having fled his Pennsylvania mining town, Charlie Halifax wins the Croix de Guerre flying in France's Lafayette Escadrille in WW I. After an injury, he tries to desert, is caught and sent to serve 20 years in the Foreign Legion. In Morocco, he flies for the greedy and vainglorious Capt. Serailler, who sells rifles to the Arabs even as he fights them. Halifax, holding on to his sanity with dreams of being the first aviator to fly the Atlantic, wins freedom--and a large sum of money--for himself and his flight mechanic (a former Russian aristocrat) by threatening to reveal Serailler's gun-running to a military investigator. Back in France with the mechanic, Halifax is confronted by the investigator, who tries to blackmail him with the promise of an article about his desertion. The irony is one of many for Halifax, who already lives with the memory of his brother's accidental death and nightmares about burning planes. But his life is also a metaphor for light that blinds, and Watkins ( Calm at Sunset, Calm at Dawn ) portrays it with deft, often lyrical prose, culminating in a beautifully imagined ending. (Sept.)