In 1944, the island of Elba has been occupied by the Nazis for years. Now the Allies have arrived to liberate the island, throwing an...

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by Joanna Scott
Little, Brown, 262 pp., $23.95

In 1944, the island of Elba has been occupied by the Nazis for years. Now the Allies have arrived to liberate the island, throwing an uneasy balance into chaos. Worse yet, in the eyes of the residents, is that many of the Allied troops are Africans: “Go on, go back to Africa, black man.” There have been atrocities committed by the liberators, many of whom feel contempt for those they have ostensibly come to save.

“Liberation” by Pulitzer Prize finalist Joanna Scott begins, in a long and claustrophobic scene, with 10-year-old Adriana Nardi in a kitchen cabinet, hidden from the latest wave of soldiers. Not far away a young Senegalese soldier Amdu, witness to the rape and murder of a young girl, flees in revulsion through a series of equally claustrophobic hiding places, until he and Adriana are thrown together. They become unlikely friends. Amdu has believed himself destined for sainthood, but in the course of his friendship with Adriana, he will use up his lifetime quota of miracles.

And Adriana is also 70, riding a train into New York City and undergoing a health crisis that might kill her. Only the night before, she told her family a story about the young soldier she befriended, and as she sinks into unconsciousness she relives those events and realizes she has left out something crucial: “No one warned her that her life would be over before she could finish saying what deserves to be said.”

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“Liberation” offers an intricate weave of story lines. Even those that seem disconnected tie into the strange but satisfying resolution. And again and again the oppressive sense of enclosure gives way to relief, a walk through a meadow, a rain storm, the touch of a loved one, a kiss. It’s a harrowing, exhilarating journey.

Reviewed by Richard Wakefield

“Mighty Fitz: The Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald”
by Michael Schumacher
Bloomsbury, 243 pp., $24.95

On Nov. 9, 1975, the freighter Edmund Fitzgerald took on a routine load of iron-ore pellets called taconite, then set off on what should have been a two-day trip to a processing plant near Detroit. Her captain, Ernest McSorley, was unworried despite forecasts of storms because the “Mighty Fitz” was 729 feet long, only 18 years old, and her 29-man crew boasted some of the most experienced sailors on Lake Superior. “Supposedly unsinkable,” she disappeared the next day in uncommonly heavy weather.

Thirty years later, Michael Schumacher’s account of the disaster still provides no definitive cause. The author of seven books and more than two dozen documentaries on Great Lakes shipwrecks, Schumacher takes readers along on the Fitzgerald’s final voyage, weaving together what information he can on the ship and the men who sailed her.

But without survivors or first-hand witnesses and without the ship’s log — which to this day remains 530 feet down in the broken hull eventually located by the Coast Guard — the mystery of a sinking so rapid that no mayday call was ever sent has become legendary. Were the hatches not securely tightened, allowing waves to leak in and soak the taconite? Did patches on her hull give out? Did her keel crack from metal fatigue, causing leaks no one suspected until the Fitz began to list? Did her load of more than 25,000 tons leave too little freeboard, sending her bow into a power dive from which she couldn’t recover?

Or did McSorley rake her over some shallows? Another freighter, the Arthur M. Anderson, survived the storm; her skipper steered well away from Six Fathom Shoal, where McSorley’s radio transmissions began reporting problems.

Schumacher notes that Gordon Lightfoot’s ballad about the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald has fascinated him since boyhood. From this lifelong interest comes an intriguing tale about a vessel so large, so indestructible, she had the bad luck to be dubbed the Titanic of the Great Lakes.

Reviewed by Irene Wanner