"The End of Hell"
A novel by Mark Carp
Mark Carp's newest novel, The End of Hell, starts simply enough, with a son in Baltimore calling his father in Florida because a Jewish war veterans' group wants David Kravitz to tape his remembrances from World War II.
Kravitz, who is a bit despondent because he misses his late wife and doesn't totally trust a New York woman, Candice Schwartz, whom he has been seeing on and off, agrees to do the taping after protesting he was "no hero."
As he begins his taping, Kravitz begins to recall memories that have long been suppressed, from the United States that had an anti-Semitic priest on national radio, Charles E. Coughlin, to Nazi bund rallies that took place in New York's Madison Square Garden to the rumors of what was happening to Eastern European Jewry.
It's shortly before the D-Day invasion, June 6, 1944, when Kravitz's company is in training to invade Nazi-held France. His squad is joined by Joe Moskowitz from Brooklyn, New York.
The two college-age Jewish soldiers begin to bond, though they are from far different backgrounds and have opposite philosophies of life. Kravitz's father is a clothing manufacturer in Baltimore and Moskowitz's father
is a union organizer in New York, specializing in the needle trades. Here Carp deftly plays these two characters off against each other. Whereas Moskowitz is spiritual and an idealist, Kravitz is a pragmatist and often cynical.
As the two enter combat, the intensity of their bonding continues, sometimes to Kravitz's consternation.
When Kravitz confesses the war has taken an emotional toll on him and he doesn't care if he lives or dies, Moskowitz says, "We've all been through hell but we'll get through this and make a better world and return to civilization and life as it's meant to be lived."
"How can you always be so high-minded?" Kravitz asks.
"Because without hope and ideals, you have nothing," he replied, with his usual sensitivity.
Kravitz and Moskowitz continue in the thick of combat and are among the liberators of the Dachau concentration camp.
As Kravitz begins to tape this episode, he becomes overwrought emotionally and is unable to continue. He begins to pace in his condominium and feels like he's going to explode. He decides to call Candice Schwartz to have someone to talk to for emotional support.
She comes over, calms his emotions and listens to him begin the segment on the liberation of Dachau. As Candice does, she begins to weep. As David completes this portion, Candice has a stunned, bewildered look on her face and becomes hysterical, but refuses to say why. Then she leaves the apartment, still hysterical. I can't go into this segment of the plot because I want you to read the novel.
Following the completion of the taping, Candice and David are drawn closer together and begin to participate in a fundraising campaign to refurbish, and construct a team house at, a playground in Brooklyn, New York.
This, too, is problematic because the dedication date chosen turns out to be the infamous day of 9/11/01, making Kravitz wonder, "Is there an end to hell?"
What Carp does throughout the book is to take readers on a journey that is highlighted by characters from multiple generations, shattered and repaired family relationships, and a complex plot that moves smoothly because of rich characterization and the use of dialogue that is appropriate to all occasions.
In all, the story is a quick, compelling read, making David Kravitz's journey well worth following.