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Book Review: 'The Woman Who Lost Her Soul'


National Book Award winner Bob Shacochis is out with his first novel in 20 years. The book is called "The Woman Who Lost Her Soul." It's long, within 700 pages, and it takes the reader on quite a journey as it traverses the globe and stretches over decades. Alan Cheuse brings us this review.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: The woman of the title, Dorothy Kovacevic, later known as Renee Gardner and then Dorothy Chambers and sometimes known as Jackie Scott, was born a daughter of a survivor of the Balkan battlefields during World War II, who's become an American spy chief. She's a young woman of diverting beauty, terse intellect, fierce strength, a powerful libido and hidden weaknesses. She spent several decades in an on-again, off-again love affair with her father's trade. Shacochis tells her story in great burst of energy and scenery by a circuitous route, opening in Haiti in the late 1990s.

We meet the woman when she's the wife of a low-life, high-octane criminal who works for American intelligence, among other people, and under watch by a straight-arrow, Montana-born American Delta Force soldier named Eville Burnette. He's ostensibly assigned to U.N. political reconstruction in Haiti. But when he fails to keep Dorothy safe during a nighttime roadside shooting, Burnette tries to find out the truth of her tormented and brilliant life.

The narrative dives back to the Balkans and her father's childhood in the war zone. And then moves on to Istanbul, where teenage Dorothy falls in love, and her father uses her as bait in a disgusting and murderous revenge plot. A lot to hear about already, I know, and even more astonishing stuff to come as Burnette, the Delta Force soldier, discovers the truth has layers beyond layers of reality and Dorothy appears to have more lives than one. A lot of pages here and every one worth reading in this reckless, raucous, brilliant novel in quest of an elusive American heroine.

SIEGEL: The book is "The Woman Who Lost Her Soul" by Bob Shacochis. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University.

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Alan Cheuse died on July 31, 2015. He had been in a car accident in California earlier in the month. He was 75. Listen to NPR Special Correspondent Susan Stamburg's retrospective on his life and career.