cover image A Ritchie Boy: A Novel

A Ritchie Boy: A Novel

Linda Kass. She Writes, $16.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-63152-739-5

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. (Sept.)