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The Buffalo Soldier


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About the Author

Chris Bohjalian is the celebrated author of seven novels, including MIDWIVES.


The capricious ways of nature frame this eighth novel by the popular Bohjalian (Midwives; Trans-Sister Radio). Several years after the devastating loss of their nine-year-old twin daughters in a flood, Vermont residents Laura and Terry Sheldon decide to adopt a child. When a state agency grants them a taciturn 10-year-old African-American boy on a foster-parent trial basis, they acquiesce, albeit with some reluctance. The trial is no less unsettling for the child, Alfred, who has already endured separations and is aware of his solitary status in the small, white town. What will save the boy, and lend poignancy to the novel, is a growing friendship with an elderly neighbor, Paul, a retired teacher, who accepts him without preconditions. He gives the boy a book about a post-Civil War western black cavalry unit, the Buffalo Soldiers, and a cap with a picture of their buffalo symbol and then invites the boy to learn to ride his horse. Alfred, moved by the book, responds to Paul and begins to break out of his isolation. Bohjalian writes honestly and often movingly, but his characters do not escape stereotyping. Terry, a uniformed state trooper, is all tough policeman when he catches Alfred arranging a hidden stash of food. He angrily accuses him of thievery, insensitive to Alfred's fear that he may be rejected and need to escape. Laura, an unhappy, colorless character, is only lent dignity by her growing love for the boy and a willingness to understand him. In an echo of the book's opening scene, another natural disaster brings the novel to a handy but credibility-straining conclusion. Bohjalian's facile handling of both plot and narrative makes for fast reading, but fans may conclude that the result feels rushed and cursory. 13-city author tour. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"In The Buffalo Soldier, Bohjalian proves once again that he's a master novelist." -The Boston Globe

"Bohjalian plunges [his characters] into a dramatic situation so powerful that even their quiet voices cannot fail to be heard. . . .The Buffalo Soldier is imbued with hope and the possibility for redemption." -The Washington Post

"Bohjalian gives us fine-grained detail and beautifully observed domestic psychology." -The Los Angeles Times

"Beautifully wrought. . . . A moving account of personal strength and the joy of belonging." -San Francisco Chronicle

"If it's captivating literature you're after, The Buffalo Soldier earns a solid A." -Entertainment Weekly

Two years after their twin daughters drown in a flash flood, Laura and Terry Sheldon, who are physically unable to bear any more children of their own, take in a quiet African American foster child named Alfred. Still haunted by the twins' deaths, Terry cannot connect with Alfred or his grief-stricken wife and finds comfort with another woman in a brief extramarital fling that results in a pregnancy. Disregarded by his foster parents and discriminated against by others in their small Vermont town, Alfred is befriended by an older neighbor, who introduces him to horseback riding and the story of the "Buffalo Soldiers," the name given to the black cavalry on the Western frontier after the Civil War. Bohjalian's eighth novel is tender if predictable, closing the way it begins with a flash flood and people in peril. Although this ending too neatly ties things together, this is still a satisfying study of the intricacies of marriage, family, and grief. With poetic skill, Bohjalian plunges readers headfirst into the aftermath of every parent's worst nightmare, then yanks them out of the abyss with symbols of blinding hope. Recommended for public libraries. Colleen Lougen, Mount St. Mary Coll., Newburgh, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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