Wayfaring Stranger

It's the early 1930s, and young Weldon Holland lives on his grandfather Hackberry's ranch while his father is gone, looking for work. Trespassers in a 1932 Chevrolet Confederate challenge Weldon and Grandfather, and the confrontation ends with Weldon firing a shot through the back windshield at Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow and two of their associates. This interaction casts a long shadow over the rest of Weldon's life.

His story resumes in 1944; Weldon, a second lieutenant, digs Sgt. Hershel Pine out of a collapsed foxhole after an attack in the Ardennes, and together they rescue Rosita, a beautiful Spanish Jew, from an abandoned death camp. The three cross enemy territory, lose toes to frostbite, fight tuberculosis and are eventually separated. After the war, Weldon finds and marries Rosita, and Hershel turns up on Grandfather's Texas ranch.

Together they establish the Dixie Belle Pipeline Company, building a minor oil empire. But the old money in Houston's exclusive River Oaks neighborhood is offended--by their success and their humble upbringings, and particularly by Rosita's heritage. And thus enter two of Burke's favorite subjects: the evil lurking in the everyday, and the hero's struggle to repress the evil within himself.

James Lee Burke (Feast Day of Fools; Creole Belle) creates convincing characters on the sides of both right and wrong, and through them writes a compelling American history. Perhaps more than any of Burke's previous work, Wayfaring Stranger is not a mystery. It's a tender love story, proving yet again his versatility and skill in creating gorgeous, luscious, painful stories of the American experience. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

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