Jan D. Hendrix’s new novel traces the course of a love affair between an American, Jewish soldier and a German, Catholic student.
As the Korean War rages half a world away, 19-year-old Corporal Mark Bergner finds himself stationed in Germany. On a trip to Frankfurt, Mark meets an attractive young woman working in a camera store. She is Lauren Werner, a 17-year-old high school student who lives with her doting but strict father, an ardent German patriot.
The two young people begin meeting for coffee, and Lauren invites Mark to visit her English class. Soon their relationship grows more serious, and the lovers must contend with disapproval from their families, both of whom live under the shadow of World War II and the Holocaust. Meanwhile, Mark and his two best Army friends face the consequences of a car wreck that kills a German civilian, and Mark incurs the wrath of Ricco, a disturbed fellow soldier who will go to any lengths for revenge.
Though smoothly written, Tour of Duty has significant weaknesses alongside significant strengths. Ricco is almost a caricature: his frequent popping up to cause trouble is a distraction from the story’s stronger threads. Mark’s and Lauren’s characters are also somewhat under-developed. For instance, when they embark on a sexual relationship, it’s implied that it’s the first for both of them, yet neither one seems to give that component of their relationship much thought.
On the other hand, Hendrix’s descriptions of daily life on an Army base are entertaining, and the subplot involving the car wreck is compelling. A quietly sad ending to the love story provides a touching, realistic capstone. Despite its flaws, Tour of Duty should have some appeal to fans of wartime romances, as well as those interested in Army life in the 1950s.
BlueInk Heads-Up: The author himself served in the Army and was stationed in Germany.
Also available in hardcover.