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Book Review: The Waldental Gasthaus by Ron McGraw

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This is the first book by Ron McGraw that I’ve read, and I can assure you it won’t be the last. I’m a little less than halfway through it, and unless he shoots himself in the foot (more than once), I’ll soon be finishing it, having buzzed through it in less than 24 hours. The Waldental Gasthaus is one of those books where I say to myself, “OK, enough reading! I have to get some work done!"

"…Well, maybe one more chapter.” Before I knew it, I’d repeated those words a dozen times. I did manage to squeeze in about three and a half minutes of work between the pages, though.

The Waldental Gasthaus is a Cold War novel written by somebody who was there at the time. Even though it’s a novel, it’s obvious McGraw was there, and most likely during the same period. What it’s not, however, is a typical military experience novel, with Germany as the setting, and the late 1950s as the probable time period. Unlike most military-related novels and stories of the period, this one is about an Army Security Agency (ASA) US army member who was assigned to a small, mostly civilian status assignment near the border with then-East Germany and Soviet Bloc Czechoslovakia.

A more apt description is probably one of the experience of the real country you’re living in, of living your life, not from the perspective of a “barracks rat,” but from the aspect of living for the moment. Now that I’ve finished the book, I can safely reaffirm what I said above, plus add a few comments. Life on a typical ASA site can be an adventure in boredom, if you let it become that. It can also give one the opportunity of a lifetime, giving one the chance to explore a part of the world that few have seen — let alone lived in — and the best part, to be stationed near people who’ve lived there since time began. The pleasures that you’ve grown up with can be left behind for an experience that few will ever have the pleasure of living, nor are they able to even believe the stories, like stories from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, updated. Talk about Doppelbock (double bock beer), or Fasching (words to live by: Don’t Buy Anyone’s Wife!) to a typical American, you get vacant stares of incomprehension, even after you’ve thoroughly explained them.

McGraw relates very little about his job or its environs, but that’s the way the powers that be like it. "The less said about it, the better," are the words the US Government’s intelligence agencies live by. Yet McGraw manages to fill 282 pages with interesting, sometimes touching, prose. The majority of the narrative consists of daily life outside of work, the interactions between the GIs and the German civilians, among whom they lived. But more than anything, The Waldental Gasthaus is a beautiful love story that’ll bring a tear to your eye more than once.

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