By Larry Duberstein
Brimstone Corner Press
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
Karel Bondy lives with his family in Prague prior to the onset of the Second World War. He comes from a tight-knit community of Czech Jews. Carl Barry is a wealthy businessman in New York City, overseeing the construction of new skyrises. Carl Barry is Karel Bondy, although this change in identity occurs slowly throughout Larry Duberstein’s masterful novel, Five Bullets. After settling in the United States, Carl Barry falls in love with and marries Clara Weiss. She a widow, he a widower. As he becomes closer to Clara, he pals around with her nephew Lewis. Lewis likes to asks questions and Carl enjoys answering them, sometimes with humor and sometimes with answers that are far from truthful. Lewis, ever astute, realizes his uncle is hiding something from him.
Duberstein arranges the novel to follow parallel tracks. In the first track is the pre-war life of Karel Bondy. In the second track is Carl Barry’s postwar prosperity. Each track, in its own way, heads towards a collision course. For Karel Bondy, it is Czechoslovakia’s sacrifice to Munich and the incremental indignities conceived by the German conquerors. His wife, Mila, retains her optimism, even as conditions worsen. First Jews endure restrictive legislation barring them from certain kinds of jobs and then restrictions become repression and then oppression. As head of the family, Karel keeps his game face on, despite knowing that the German’s have far more sinister plans than ghettos and work camps.
Five Bullets is a portrait of the twentieth century. Even after enduring the inhumanity, brutality, and evil that characterized that time period, Karel does his best to retain his humanity. After seeking refuge with a Polish farmer, he leaves to fight with Russian partisans. Unlike the joking and coarse partisans, Karel remains taciturn, cynical, and bitter. When the War finally ends, he decides to settle scores. But we only come to this pivotal scene, when he confronts the SS officer that sent his family to their ultimate extermination, several decades into his new life as Carl Barry. Lewis receives much information from Uncle Carl, seeing him as a font of encyclopedic knowledge. But when it comes to his experiences in the War, it is like pulling teeth.
Then Uncle Carl decides to tell Lewis everything. He decides to tell Lewis the story of the five bullets and how he used them. Five Bullets reads like an intense mashup between Mad Men, Schindler’s List, and Titus Andronicus. It is a gut-wrenching story of the Holocaust, an astute portrait of Mid-Century American from the Jewish perspective, and a nail-biting revenge thriller. Duberstein’s fiction reveals what we as a species are capable of doing to each other, both on a global, political scale and within the mind of a single individual hellbent on re-balancing the scales, even if that means taking the lawn into his own hands. Coupling together the immigrant narrative with that of a revenge drama turns a simple story into something more sublime.
Out of 10/9.0