3 out of 4 stars
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El Ombú is a historical fiction novel authored by Beldon Butterfield. The title is taken from the name of an evergreen tree from Pampa that grows on an estancia (cattle ranch) belonging to the Redfield family in Argentina. They believe that it has some magical properties and symbolizes their culture.
This story of a British family is character-driven with Lt. David Redfield, DFC & Bar, as the protagonist. It is during World War II. He does an excellent job as a young Spitfire pilot who is injured and becomes a prisoner of war of the Italians. Managing to escape with the help of Vico, a childhood buddy, he journeys by submarine to Malta. The months are full of challenges, ordeals, and surprises for this Anglo-Argentinian even as he feels as if he is being watched and every detail has been planned. What could be the reason for him to become a VIP? Thereafter, the fighter travels to Tel Aviv in the British Mandate of Palestine, and then to London where his parents are waiting for him. He does not receive a warm welcome as expected. Instead, he must face the consequences of his dark past due to a romantic relationship with Maureen, a woman much older than him. David learns that Charles, his rival, has muddled it further, but readers may wish to find out the details for themselves.
This 387-page book is so captivating and fast-paced that I had to read it in one go with only a short break after every chapter. The first half is full of suspense. I was left with many questions about the identity of several characters and the strange events that surrounded David. The second half is a lengthy unfolding of the mystery. I felt it was stretched too much, and the author could have done this in a few pages.
What I liked most was the exposure to French, Spanish, Italian, British, American, and other cultures in the historical context of World War II and its aftermath. The children born of mixed marriages between people of diverse races grow up into strong and distinct personalities, thus increasing my interest in the novel. It is dense with historical information and events surrounding the War that have been creatively woven by the author along with very interesting character development.
Although El Ombú combines historical fiction with romance, its sexually explicit content could be disturbing to some readers. Most of the women characters have been depicted as promiscuous individuals trying to seduce David. I most disliked this aspect of the book and felt that it is gender biased and disrespectful. It is not meant for children. Otherwise, the novel has an excellent plot and script. I did find errors in spelling and grammar, but they were not distracting. The book needs to be professionally edited. After taking all that is discussed into consideration, I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars. I recommend it for men and women who like historical fiction, culture, and wartime stories. Those who serve the defense forces will enjoy reading it.
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