For anyone who has read Searching for Pemberley, you know that I have an interest in World War II. POWs at Chigger Lake is a wonderful novel about that time, but this one is about the home front. If this is an area of interest for you, I would encourage you to have a look at this novel.
In May 1943, during World War II, a quarter of a million German and Italian troops surrendered in North Africa. This was a great victory for the Allied forces, but what did the United States do with tens of thousands of prisoners of war? Jack Shakely's novel, Prisoners at Chigger Lake, is the story of what happened to one large contingent of Italian prisoners, who were transported to a prisoner-of-war camp in Waleetka, Oklahoma in the heart of Indian County. The war in Italy has been a long hard slog with tens of thousands of American dead to prove the difficulty of fighting in the rugged terrain of the Italian peninsula, and Lt. Gregory, the officer who is in charge of building the POW camp, worries about the reception the POWs will receive in the Sooner State. But instead of a major clash between the Americans and the Italians, the two groups develop an appreciation for each other's culture, with the Italians attending the Buffalo Dance ceremony of the local Creeks, and the Indians and townspeople of Waleetka watching a European-style football match. And everyone enjoys a watermelon festival.
The author writes crisp, snappy dialog for all the players. This is especially true of Lt. Gregory and his love interest, Army nurse, Lt. Connie Ballard. "It was a wartime romance in a larval stage." The charm of the Italians and the graciousness of the salt-of-the-earth Okies draw the reader in. There is almost a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney "let's put on a show" type atmosphere at Camp Chigger, and the Camel Cigarette Christmas Cavalcade of Stars ends up broadcasting from the camp. But there is also the reality of embedded generational bias against the Indians which is easily transferred to the dark-skinned Italians, and people get hurt.
For anyone who is interested in the Home Front during World War II, this is a must read. The author seamlessly blends in the artifacts of that era from green packages of Lucky Strike Green cigarettes to patriotic radio shows and gasoline rationing. It is the story of how one community dealt with the tens of thousands of prisoners of war who got off a train in the heartland of America, and the bonds of friendship that were formed by the time the war had ended and it was time for everyone to go home.