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Book Report: Son carries on, expands war narrative

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As the River Falls Reads program winds down and folks who have read and enjoyed Michael Shaara's Pulitzer-Prize winning novel about the Battle of Gettysburg, "The Killer Angels," are looking for new reading material, I'm happy to report that although Shaara died in 1988, his family lives on in the person of his son, Jeff Shaara, who also writes about the Civil War and has completed his father's trilogy with "Gods and Generals" and "The Last Full Measure."

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His new book is "A Blaze of Glory," a novel about the Battle of Shiloh. (Ballantine Books, $28).

That's not to say that the son mimics the father.

The younger Shaara takes a different approach than his father did in this new book.

Whereas "The Killer Angels" and Jeff Shaara's other two Civil War books are peppered with references to generals on both sides of the conflict, "A Blaze of Glory" is peopled not only with generals but with "grunts," the foot soldiers, the rank and file, who take you right out onto the battle field and reveal their hopes and fears.

Remember "The Longest Day," Cornelius Ryan's non-fiction account of World War II's D-Day?

In that book Ryan let generals and colonels, and privates and sergeants and Americans and Germans and Brits from all walks of life tell the story of the monumental battle.

Shaara does the same in his new book, peopling his novel with the little guys who crossed bayonets at Shiloh.

In the foreword, Shaara says he discovered over the years that generals don't always tell the best stories. So in this new book, even Wisconsin gets in the act with the creation of a Private Fritz "Dutchie" Bauer of the 16th Wisconsin Regiment.

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When I first opened "Maus," the award-winning graphic novel by Art Spiegelman, I remembered my grade school teacher Mrs. Reich's admonition: "Don't waste your time reading comic books!"

Mrs. Reich, of course, was talking about the misadventures of Donald Duck and Superman.

After reading the very adult-oriented "Maus," I became something of a convert. I figure if people read something, it's better than nothing, even if the prose is sometimes overwhelmed by the illustrations.

Graphic Universe in Minneapolis is into graphic novels for young folks in a big way, some of them from Europe and others from home.

"The Secret Mummy," by Lars Jakobsen (Graphic Universe, $6.95) is a Danish product, part of a series of thrillers featuring a kid detective named Mortimer Mortensen.

In "Mummy," illustrated in full color, he's on the trail of some nogoodniks who are using the newly invented time travel gun to track down he knows not what.

But it ain't good.

Mortensen travels from 1990s Paris to 1893 Transylvania, where people are showing up dead with fang marks on their necks. He also goes to modern Prague.

The intrepid Mortensen learns that the deaths have nothing to do with vampires, but the evil Count Zahr who lives in an eerie castle.

Mortensen's young readers will learn about Count Dracula, the Bosnian war and the U.N.'s involvement as well as well as kidney transplants!

The book is due out in March and is aimed at middle school readers.

Another foreign import from Graphic for younger readers is "Where's Leopold?" by Michel-Yves Schmitt, illustrated by Vincent Caut ($6.95), which asks the question "What would you do if you woke up one morning and could turn invisible?"

Christopher Marlowe asked adult readers in the 17th century the same question in "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus."

Faustus had a great time meeting with Helen of Troy and asking, "Is this the face that launched a thousand ships....?"

And pinching cardinals at pontifical meetings.

Dave Wood is a past Vice President of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Phone him at 715-426-9554.

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