Warburg in Rome

James Carroll is one of America's finest writers, adept in both fiction and nonfiction. He won a National Book Award in 1996 for An American Requiem, a memoir of his relationship with his major-general father, the Catholic church and the military. His magisterial history of the Pentagon, House of War, won the first PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith award for nonfiction in 2007. A former priest, he has written often about the intersection of religion and war, and this historical thriller is solidly in that vein. Set in Rome in the years just after the end of World War II, it follows three major characters—an American Army major (the Warburg of the title) trying to save Jewish refugees; an Italian woman with a dark past who assists him; and a young American priest also committed to helping refugees. Rome, too, is a character in the book—a maze of fleeing Nazis and other fascists, displaced and hungry Jewish war victims, American and British spies, and bumbling aid workers. When Warburg discovers one of the great scandals of post-war history, the Vatican “ratline” enabling Nazi war criminals to escape to South America, the novel rises to the level of something by Graham Greene or John Le Carré.