Monday, January 9, 2012

The Buffalo Soldier by Chris Bohjalian

In northern Vermont, a raging river overflows and sweeps the nine-year-old twin daughters of Terry and Laura Sheldon to their deaths.  In the aftermath of the tragedy, the highway patrolman and his wife, unable to have more children, take in a foster child; a ten-year-old African-American boy who has been shuttled for years between foster families and group homes.  Young Alfred cautiously enters the family circle, barely wiling to hope that he might find a permanent home among these kind people still distracted by grief.

Across the street from the Sheldons live an older couple who take Alfred under their wing, and it is they who introduce him to the history of the buffalo soldiers—African-American cavalry troopers whose reputation for integrity, honor, and personal responsibility inspires the child.

Before life has a chance to settle down, however, Terry, who has never been unfaithful to Laura, finds himself attracted to the solace of another woman.  Their encounter, brief as it is, leaves her pregnant with his baby—a child Terry suddenly realizes he urgently wants.

Chris Bohjalian is a genius!  The characters are well-developed and completely believable.  The multiple-voiced story moves along at a pace that keeps you on the edge of your seat, not wanting to put it down.  The ending is sudden (the only way you know the ending is coming is because there are only a few pages left) yet it leaves you satisfied.  Oh….and the ‘chapter blurbs’!  Each chapter starts with an excerpt from the book about the Buffalo Soldiers.  We know that Alfred gathers inspiration from the story of the Buffalo Soldiers, but it is a seemingly almost-insignificant part of the book, until at the end Bohjalian masterfully brings the stories together in a way that brings tears to your eyes.  The story could have been told without the Buffalo Soldiers, but it adds a layer of richness and symbolism to an incredible novel.

5 stars (PG-13 – just a little language and adult topics.)

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