Scott Turow

"Ordinary Heroes"

(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky DEC 12, 2005)

When World War II veteran David Dubin dies at the age of eighty-eight, his son, Stewart Dubinsky, reflects on the taciturn father whom he never really knew. Stewart goes through David's effects and finds a letter written in 1945 by Grace Morton, the fiancée that David left behind. From this letter, Stewart learns that David jilted Grace, who waited eagerly for him to return home. More shocking, David Dubin had been court-martialed. Stewart is stunned to learn that his dad, a reserved, orderly, hardworking, and dignified man, a brilliant lawyer, a good provider, and a faithful husband to his wife for sixty years, had a "past" that he kept hidden from his children. What crime did David commit that led to his trial? Why did he go free? Who was this close-mouthed individual who lived underneath a thick protective shell?

Stewart had been a journalist for thirty-three years before he retired at the age of fifty-five. His marriage is on the rocks and his life lacks focus. Now that his father is dead, Stewart hopes that his eighty-year-old mother, Gilda, will shed light on her husband's history. However, she refuses to address her son's questions, preferring that the past remain a mystery. Stewart decides to use his experience as an investigative reporter to dig into his father's wartime experiences. He discovers a long-lost memoir written by David when he was a young man, and this document, along with the testimony of someone who knew David's father back in 1945, ultimately give Stewart the answers that he seeks.

Ordinary Heroes is, for the most part, the text of David Dubin's written recollections of his experiences in the army. A series of unpredictable events thrust Dubin into the ferocious Battle of the Bulge, where he commands valiant men who live and die under unspeakable conditions. David meets the courageous and charming Robert Martin, who may be either a maverick working undercover to defeat a vicious enemy, or, as some believe, a traitor to the United States. Dubin's superiors order him to place Martin under arrest. This presents Dubin with a moral dilemma that leads to a painful crisis of conscience.

Scott Turow based this novel on accounts of his father's and other veterans' wartime experiences. Much of the book is pure fiction. What is noteworthy about Ordinary Heroes is Turow's harrowing and unflinching depiction of the day-to-day life of an American infantryman--the brutal hunger, the biting cold, the abject loneliness, the anger, the uncertainty, and the gnawing fear. The book has many telling details: a soldier named Bidwell snaps black and white photographs with his simple camera wherever he goes, Dubin has to be kicked in the pants before jumping out of an airplane, German soldiers sing Christmas carols and the Americans join them before the next bloody engagement begins, hundreds of artillery shells make a deafening sound as they whistle by, and dying and wounded men scream and moan as they think of their loved ones. After the battle, the fallen are left sprawled on the field, while the intact survivors wonder why they were spared.

The books has its flaws, which include too many talky passages that slow the narrative down, and some characterizations that border on caricature. In addition, although Turow's descriptive writing is sometimes vivid and evocative, it is often excessively melodramatic and overwrought. When describing horrendous events, understatement is more effective than hyperbole. Still, Ordinary Heroes is worth reading for its account of one man's trial by fire, of the moral ambiguities that soldiers face in combat, of the secrets that people feel compelled to keep, and of the heroism of the brave men and women who laid down their lives to defeat one of the worst villains the world has ever known.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 111 reviews

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About the Author:

Scott TurowScott Turow was born in Chicago in 1949.  In 1970 he graduated from Amherst College and received a fellowship to Stanford University Creative Writing Center.  He stayed on to teach creative writing at Stanford until 1975, whereupon he entered Harvard Law School.  From 1978 to 1986 he was Assistant U.S. Attorney in Chicago.  Today he is a partner in a Chicago International law firm, Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal, where his practice centers on white collar criminal litigation.

He is also a member of the Rock Bottom Remainders a rock band that consists of authors.

Turow has been active in a number of charitable causes, including Literacy Chicago. In 1997-98, he served as president of the Authors Guild, which is the national membership organization for professional writers, and continues to serve on its governing board. He is a Trustee of Amherst College. Turow has been married to Annette Turow, a painter, since 1971. They have three children and live outside Chicago. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014