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Robbins, David L. 1954-

Robbins, David L. 1954-

PERSONAL:

Born March 10, 1954, in Richmond, VA; son of Sam (a Federal Aviation Agency supervisor/traffic controller) and Carol Glady Jacobson (a teacher/recreation specialist) Robbins. Education: College of William & Mary, B.A., 1976, J.D., 1980. Politics: "Fiscal Republican, social Democrat."

ADDRESSES:

E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Novelist. Environmental lawyer, Columbia, SC, 1980-81; freelance writer, 1981-90.

WRITINGS:

Souls to Keep, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.

War of the Rats, Bantam (New York, NY), 1999.

The End of War, Bantam (New York, NY), 2000.

The Brink of War, Bantam (New York, NY), 2001.

Scorched Earth, Bantam (New York, NY), 2002.

Last Citadel: A Novel of the Battle of Kursk, Bantam (New York, NY), 2003.

Twisted: A Novel, Onyx (New York, NY), 2004.

Liberation Road: A Novel of World War II and the Red Ball Express, Bantam (New York, NY), 2005.

The Assassins Gallery, Bantam (New York, NY), 2006.

SIDELIGHTS:

David L. Robbins is a writer of historical fiction who usually focuses on events from World War II. These novels focus on events that Robbins feels were of critical importance in the history of the twentieth century but are not well known among average readers. His first World War II era book, War of the Rats, received enthusiastic reviews and became a bestseller. The novel recounts the epic battle of Stalingrad, considered the turning point of the war. Fighting between the Nazis and the Soviets in and around the city raged from August 21, 1942 to February 2, 1943, with total casualties estimated at more than 1.5 million. Many of these were civilians. Historians generally agree that both sides demonstrated extraordinary discipline and resolve in this campaign, with Soviet troops especially determined to fight to the death to defend the city and with both sides facing appalling dangers, including the unrelenting cruelty of the Russian winter. Though the Soviet victory in February was the critical blow that resulted, finally, in the Nazis' defeat in 1945, Stalingrad was won at shocking cost, with a degree of brutality and bloodshed unprecedented to that date. Robbins structures his story of this campaign as a battle to the death between two deadly adversaries: master sniper Vasily Zaitsev, who leads a team of Soviet soldiers that is shaking the Nazis' confidence by picking them off seemingly at will, and Heinz Thorvald, the SS colonel sent by Berlin to kill him. (Though based on actual individuals, Zaitsev and Thorvald are fictional characters.) New York Times Book Review contributor Richard Bernstein enjoyed War of the Rats, observing that Robbins exploited the dramatic potential of his subject to good effect in the novel. While admitting that Robbins's prose is merely workmanlike and his plot sometimes implausible, Bernstein concluded that the book is "a creative variation on the wartime adventure genre, and it gives a compelling and graphic sense of the heroism-filled nightmare called Stalingrad."

Robbins followed War of the Rats with The End of War, set during the final months of the war as Churchill, FDR, and Stalin vie to create a post-war world order most favorable to their respective interests. Meanwhile, Soviet armies from the eastern front and British and American troops from the western front race to reach Berlin, while the city's exhausted residents wait in fear, expecting the worst: widespread raping and pillage by rampaging Soviet soldiers. Library Journal reviewer David Keymer considered the novel to be a "first-rate tale of war."

Scorched Earth, described by a Publishers Weekly contributor as "intricately plotted, insightful and deeply affecting," tells the story of an interracial couple in the deep South. Elijah Waddell and his white wife, Clare, do not provoke noticeable prejudice among their small-town neighbors until their baby daughter dies almost immediately after birth and is buried, at Clare's grandmother's request, in the all-white cemetery of the Victory Baptist Church. When church officials insist that the body be moved to the Black Baptist cemetery, Victory Baptist is burned to the ground and Elijah becomes the prime suspect. In the Library Journal, Karen Anderson praised the novel's "intriguing characters, … compelling plot, and … riveting ending."

Robbins returned to the subject of World War II in Last Citadel: A Novel of the Battle of Kursk. Hitler launched a huge tank attack against the Russian city of Kursk on July 4, 1943, prompting a battle that lasted for approximately six weeks before the Germans were forced to withdraw. It is generally considered the largest armored battle ever fought, with both sides sustaining huge casualties. As in War of the Rats, Robbins shapes his narrative around two individual enemies, Cossack patriarch Dmitri Berko and Luis de Vega, a veteran of Franco's war who now commands an SS tank brigade. Robert Conroy, reviewing the novel in the Library Journal, praised it as an "epic and compelling story" with convincing and sympathetic characters. A contributor to Publishers Weekly appreciated the novel's striking details and "rich ensemble cast" of characters.

Liberation Road: A Novel of World War II and the Red Ball Express is set in France after the D-Day invasion. The "Red Ball Express" organized the daunting logistics of getting crucial supplies to the front lines. As well as being a thriller, the novel also examines the theme of racial prejudice that the red ball drivers, most of them African Americans, experienced. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews called Liberation Road a "mighty drama" that confirms Robbins's stature as "the Homer of World War II."

In The Assassins Gallery, also set during World War II, Robbins brings the action to the United States as a would-be assassin stalks President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Suspicion falls on Judith, a mysterious Persian-born woman implicated in a double murder on the Massachusetts coast. Robbins has an "uncanny ability to provide just the right amount of historical detail without overwhelming the plot," remarked a writer for Publishers Weekly.

Robbins once told CA: "I once heard William Styron at a lecture say a writer should do three things (what he called the ‘three Es’): elevate, entertain, and educate. In my books I strive to incorporate all three. I believe it is the writer's duty to think and express himself with intellect, wit, and insight, and to be a master of his craft. Too many writers today tell a fine and riveting story, but the subject matter doesn't rise above murder or sizzle, ghosts, or gore, and the writing itself is mundane, even weak. I pride myself on my craftsmanship. I study writing. I work on my natural gifts with words and imagery. I choose good stories and stay out of their way as best I can.

"I write historical fiction, but I also have published, and will publish, general fiction. Historical fiction is by far the more difficult genre; it requires most of a year of intense research and travel, and the story is restricted to the calendar of actual events. The real skill is to get inside history and find the humanness, to depict history not as gigantic and inevitable—almost tectonic—but as small and even brittle, subject to the frailties of the people who made it. History, I have found, has been fashioned from the raw materials of jealousy, pettiness, rivalry, pride, as well as courage, farsightedness and boldness. This is what I look for in the stories I tell.

"Also, I search for tales from history that are recognizable but under-covered in current literature. The battle of Stalingrad is known in millions of households, of course, but without any depth. So I picked it for War of the Rats. The fall of Berlin, and with it the fall of the Iron Curtain and the rape of hundreds of thousands of Berlin women by the invading Russian forces, is the subject of The End of War. My current novel deals with the rise of the Berlin Wall, the real beginning of the twentieth century's epoch of East versus West, and a story not well represented in contemporary fiction. I will continue to scan the centuries for these stories, where I can bring to readers the monolithic happenings of history through the actions (imagined and real) of a few. When the ordinary becomes extraordinary, there is history.

"I consider myself to be the most fortunate of men. Of all the things I can do, and of all the things I love, and the one thing I do best—is what I do. I write. It has been my greatest dream since childhood, to tell stories (ask my 3rd and 5th grades teacher, Mrs. Wallin; she shushed me for two years; she gave me my first novel, The Hobbit), to be an artist with words, to be an archiver and observer—and commenter—of our culture. To have my name mentioned alongside those I have long revered, the names of authors. Thrilling.

"I am a disciplined writer, trying to work seven days a week (all right, I skip a day or two a month for golf, but that's it). I find the story grows distant from me if I miss a day at the computer, and it takes hours for me to grow close enough to it again to add to it. I ask myself for two single-spaced pages a day, but I accept less and strive for more. As for the development of my stories in progress, I only know the beginnings and the endings (and perhaps a waystation or two), and I let the middles write themselves. If you have good, three-dimensional characters, rooted in your personal reality (you can turn them and work them like Rubic's Cubes, they continue to dare and surprise you), then you can record what they say and think and accomplish as they careen to their pre-determined fates. This is an important distinction: recordation versus recollection. Sometimes an author's work will smack of memory. His words (especially his verb selection) (note: I wrote The End of War, 165,000 words, with fewer than five adverbs) will be passive or remote. The reader will sense he is reading something the writer has recalled. Memory is, by definition, of the past, events grown already cold and ashen. The really great stuff, the writers whose work sings and shakes and smokes, are the ones who compose as though they're watching it happen (in their heads, of course, but still very much watching) then record for the reader what they see, smell and hear. That is alive writing always. It's not pre-planned and sucked of extemporaneity, but edgy and poetic, like the real thing, like life.

"I suppose it's OK if I close by saying I hope to be around for a long, long time. Then I hope they have story time in Heaven. Or…."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, June 1, 1998, Grace Lee, review of Souls to Keep, p. 1727; May 1, 1999, Gilbert Taylor, review of War of the Rats, p. 1559; May 15, 2000, Gilbert Taylor, review of The End of War, p. 1702; September 1, 2003, George Cohen, review of Last Citadel: A Novel of the Battle of Kursk, p. 61.

Entertainment Weekly, December 24, 2004, Brian Palmer, review of Liberation Road: A Novel of World War II and the Red Ball Express, p. 73.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2002, review of Scorched Earth, p. 147; July 15, 2003, review of Last Citadel, p. 933; October 15, 2004, review of Liberation Road, p. 982; June 1, 2006, review of The Assassins Gallery, p. 541.

Library Journal, April 15, 1998, Barbara E. Kemp, review of Souls to Keep, p. 116; June 15, 1999, A.J. Anderson, review of War of the Rats, p. 110; June 15, 2000, David Keymer, review of The End of War, p. 117; March 15, 2002, Karen Anderson, review of Scorched Earth, p. 109; August 1, 2003, Robert Conroy, review of Last Citadel, p. 135; December 1, 2004, David Keymer, review of Liberation Road, p. 102.

New York Times, July 8, 1999, Martin Arnold, "On the Beach without Tom," p. E3.

New York Times Book Review, July 27, 1999, Richard Bernstein, review of War of the Rats.

Officer, November 1, 2006, David R. Bockel, review of Liberation Road, p. 54.

Publishers Weekly, June 14, 1999, review of War of the Rats, p. 51; June 26, 2000, review of The End of War, p. 49; February 18, 2002, review of Scorched Earth, p. 70; July 7, 2003, interview with David L. Robbins, p. 50, and review of Last Citadel, p. 51; November 29, 2004, review of Liberation Road, p. 23; June 26, 2006, review of The Assassins Gallery, p. 29.

ONLINE

David L. Robbins Home Page,http://www.davidlrobbins.com (May 9, 2007).

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