AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Author James Carroll spent five years as a Catholic priest, before his literary ambitions led him to leave the priesthood. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, says his past helps make his latest book a standout. Alan says he's knitted together his knowledge of the church and his matured powered at a novelist to create his most splendid work of fiction to date.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: "Warburg In Rome" creates the atmosphere of a thriller with deeply serious historical undertones - the immediate aftermath of the German occupation of Rome. And the laying down of the infamous ratlines that allowed Nazi principals to escape allied capture with aid from the church. And Roosevelt's belated plan to save Jews still in Nazi territory. That's the history part. Fiction enters with a main character named David Warburg, a secular American Jew from northern New England. Roosevelt has charged him with directing the U.S. War Refugee Board and sends him on a mission to Rome, just after the Nazi retreat. Plenty of other strong characters gather around Warburg - some to help and some to disrupt. There's American priest, whom New York's ambitious Cardinal Spellman has assigned to advance his purposes, while in Rome and 24-year-old Marguerite D’Erasmo, a half-French, half-Italian beauty, whom Warburg finds both attractive and useful for his own plans. She's been working in tandem with a group of resisting priests and local Jewish leaders to save the lives of Jews still in fascist captivity. A long struggle ensues to find justice and love in the wake of the war. But the novel remains consistently entertaining, never didactic - even as a reader moves along, hip-deep in the history of the period.

CORNISH: The book is "Warburg In Rome" written by James Carroll and reviewed by Alan Cheuse. Alan's most recent book is a collection of short stories called "And Authentic Marvel Ring."

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