Summary and book reviews of Far Bright Star by Robert Olmstead

Far Bright Star

By Robert Olmstead

Far Bright Star
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: May 2009,
    207 pages.
    Paperback: May 2010,
    240 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Book Summary

Set in 1916, Far Bright Star follows Napoleon Childs, an aging cavalryman, as he leads an expedition of inexperienced soldiers into the mountains of Mexico to hunt down Pancho Villa and bring him to justice. Though he is seasoned at such missions, things go terribly wrong and the patrol is brutally attacked. After witnessing the demise of his troops, Napoleon is left by his captors to die in the desert.

Through him we enter the conflicted mind of a warrior as he tries to survive against all odds, as he seeks to make sense of a lifetime of senseless wars and to reckon with the reasons a man would choose a life on the battlefield. Olmstead, an award-winning writer, uses his precise, descriptive prose to explore the endurance and fate of the last horse soldiers. The result is a tightly wound novel that is as moving as it is terrifying.

1

THUS FAR THE SUMMER of 1916 had been a siege of wrathy wind and heated air. Dust and light. Sand and light. Wind and light.

There was drought and the land was parched and dry and the country bleached, burned out, and furnacelike. At first, dogs attended the troopers, but then they experienced a plague of fleas, so the order went out to shoot the dogs.

It was 125 miles south of the international line in Colonia Dublán where the expedition had established its headquar-ters. They were well supplied. They shipped in tons of ma-terial by rail, truck, and mule team and employed thousands of civilian workers. The cantinas and whorehouses were open all night long and the only hardship, other than being there, was riding out each day to patrol the dry dusty roads. They were in search of Poncho Villa and his bandits who on March 9 audaciously attacked Columbus, New Mexico, burning, looting, killing, and they’d been hunting him ever since.

But everywhere they went it was the ...

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Reviews

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Although Far Bright Star has become one of my favorite books, it will not appeal to all readers. First, the author's writing style may annoy as many as it attracts, as it's so atypical of most current prose; some may consider it genius while others will think it overly affected. More importantly, the book contains scenes of intense brutality. I rarely have any difficulty reading about people inflicting harm on others; in Far Bright Star, though, some fairly horrific events are depicted so graphically that I found them truly disturbing, with long-lasting afterimages.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

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Media Reviews
Washington Post

In this, his seventh book, Olmstead writes with a gritty style as sparse as the landscape itself...Olmstead's knife-edge paring of words...makes "Far Bright Star" such a fine work of fiction.

Library Journal

... a sparse, poetic style that is appropriate for the book's bleak setting and subject matter.

Booklist

This relatively short novel packs a potent emotional wallop.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Olmstead's brilliantly expressive, condensed tale of resilience and dusty determination flows with the kind of literary cadence few writers have mastered.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. The spectacle Olmstead presents is not a pretty one ... But the beauty and power of his prose will keep most readers from looking away. Brutal, tender and magnificent.

Reader Reviews
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Beyond the Book

Pancho Villa
In Far Bright Star, Cavalryman Napoleon Childs is a member of an expedition sent to the Mexican border to apprehend bandit Pancho Villa.

Many details of Villa's life are unknown or in dispute. Scholars believe he was born José Doroteo Arango Arambula in 1877 (some sources indicate 1878 or 1879) in San Juan del Rio, Durango, Mexico. He was the son of an impoverished sharecropper who died when Villa was fifteen. Legend has it that at the age of sixteen Villa returned from a day in the fields to find the wealthy hacienda owner attempting to rape his twelve-year-old sister. Villa shot the man and fled to the hills where he banded with other outlaws during the years that ...

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