Ordinary Heroes

by Scott Turow


Reviewed by Susan Gillmor

Ordinary Heroes by Scott Turow, book cover Ordinary Heroes is a marked departure from the usual Turow legal thriller fare, yet we do find at the center of this philosophical and occasionally penetrating historical novel a young JAG lawyer operating in the European theater in the last months of World War II.

Stewart Dubinsky, a retired newspaper reporter, buries his father, David Dubin, then discovers papers that suggest never-revealed combat experience and hint of shameful secrets. Stewart delves deeper and discovers his father faced court-martial in the months following the war’s end for releasing from house arrest an OSS officer gone rogue. The charges were dropped but Dubinsky continues to search for the truth about his father, so emotionally distant and reticent in life. Ordinary Heroes is, in the main, narrated in the elder Dubin's voice, uncovered in manuscript form as his son hunts for the truth.

A self-professed desk-jockey, Dubin stumbles into an unlikely combat assignment during the Battle of the Bulge. As the Germans attack his Army group in the unrelenting frigid temperatures of the war’s last winter, a straightforward battlefield story touches on the literary and philosophical: “Why was I born? Why do men fight? Why must I die now?” are the questions that “danced, like skinny ballerinas across the thin membrane that separated everything from a molten surface, which was my constant fear.”

Now battle-hardened, Dubin follows the troops into a conquered Germany. “Like the cities and towns of western Europe, my steeples lay in ruins. I wanted only to go home and . . . pick through the rubble.” From combat narrative to spy story to morality tale, Ordinary Heroes attempts to examine the universal gray areas separating fathers and sons, intentions and actions, truth and fiction, cowardice and bravery. At times the novel seems to overreach or forget its own ambitions, but in the end Turow succeeds in creating a moving exploration of the strength of the human spirit: “We all have much more courage than is commonly recognized.” (2005, 494 pages)

More about Ordinary Heroes at Powell's Books


Other historical fiction about Army lawyers and/or the OSS:

Officer of the Court by Bill Mesce (2001), a mystery/thriller about an Army lawyer investigating the case of a murdered fighter pilot. More info

The Last Heroes by W.E.B. Griffin (1997), #1 in the Men at War series about the OSS. More info

Fatal Crossroads: A Novel of Vietnam 1945 by Seymour Topping (2005), about an OSS officer who goes to meet with Ho Chi Minh at the close of World War II. More info


Nonfiction about the OSS or Office of Strategic Services during World War II:

OSS: The Secret History of America's First Central Intelligence Agency by R. Harris Smith (1972). More info

Sabotage and Subversion: The SOE and OSS at War by Ian Dear (2000). More info

Operatives, Spies and Saboteurs: The Unknown Story of the Men and Women of World War II's OSS by Patrick K. O'Donnell (2006). More info


Online:

"What Was OSS?" at the Central Intelligence Agency's website


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