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Despite flaws, ‘Prodigal Sons’ well worth reading

September 28, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Prodigal Sons by Sheldon Greene; self-published; 340 pages; no price listed.

By Norman Manson

Norman Manson

SAN DIEGO — This is a fascinating, suspenseful novel, replete with violence, intrigue and romance, but is flawed in several significant ways.

The main protagonist, Jan Goldberg, alias Horst Vogle, plays a variety of roles as this saga unfolds. Ostensibly an art historian and assistant curator at a major museum, he’s also a cold-blooded killer and nazi hunter, a guerrilla fighter during World War II, a soldier in the Haganah during Israel’s War for Independence and an accomplaished athlete, especially in tennis and soccer.
His family having been wiped out in nazi Germany’s onslaught in Poland,  Jan joins the Jewish Partisan forces as they try to sabotage German efforts on the Russian front. Surviving the war, he arrives in the future state of Israel aboard a ship that runs the British blockade. After fighting in some desperate battles defending a kibbutz against the invading Arabs in 1948, he settles briefly on the kibbutz, but finds this life not to his liking so accepts a chance to again fight nazis in Germany as a member of Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence force. This means a new identity as Horst Vogle and a cover job as assistant curator of Munich’s Alte Pinakothek Museum   He had studied art history in Germany before the war.
While leading a double life in Munich, Jan/Horst meets the love of his life, but also meets several neo-nazi characters. He carries out a few extremely dangerous, hair-raising missions on behalf of Israel. And somehow, he survives a violent abduction, and then finds himself faced with a monumentally difficult, life-changing conundrum. How he resolves this dilemma will be left to the readers to discern.
The climactic events of this story take place in about 1950, stirring up some puzzling issues. For one, was Israel, then just two years old, capable of conducting the kind of sophisticated intelligence operations depicted here?
Also, were these former nazi operatives active in Germany at that time? Many of them had fled to South America and elsewhere.
There is one definite factual error regarding World War II. He states that the Red Army captured Warsaw in October 1944. Actually, they stayed on the other side of the Vistula River for months, and allowed the Wehrmacht and the Polish Partisans to fight to the death before taking the city in January 1945. 
Finally, how did Jan/Horst, a rugged athletic type, fit in to his role as a museum curator?
Some of the transitions are a bit too abrupt and difficult to comprehend on first reading. And the book could have used a more competent  editing job. There are misused words, and errors in punctuation – especially horrendous is his misuse of the apostrophe.
Nevertheless, this is a story worth telling and reading. Much of it is truly a page-turner.

Manson is a freelance writer based in San Diego.

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