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Will's War Review

Page 10C       Sunday, March 17, 2002              The Dallas Morning News

A shameful slice of Texas history

By JANE SUMNER
Staff Critic

     John Grisham, go way back and sit down.  This season’s most readable courtroom thriller comes from deep in the bloodly heart of Texas.

      True Women author Janice Woods Windle is at it again, mining her colorful go-for-it family. But this time the focus is a once-celebrated trial, now nearly forgotten, and an ugly, mean chapter in state history.

     The result is the Seguin native’s  best, most tautly written novel. Lit-erary first lady Laura Bush, is right:  Janice Woods Windle is “a wonderful storyteller.”

     It’s 1917 and this time the central character is not one of the author’s strong-hearted female relatives.  Rather, it’s her charismatic, movie-star-handsome maternal grandfather, Will Bergfeld.

     Shy and flamboyant at the same time, Will was a grown wild boy who did magic tricks for kids, delivered the mail on an Indian motorcycle and played the violin sans sheet music.

     In fact, he was fiddling for wife Virginia and their two little girls when 18 armed men burst warrentless into his home and took him to jail on suspicion of treason.

     They arrested him, not because he was a leader in the labor movement that fought the robber barons and big local landowners, but because he had a German name and the United States had declared war on the Kaiser.

     Will was arraigned at the Fort Worth  courthouse, but he way only one of 52 members of the Farmers’ and Laborers’ Protective Association picked up in the sweep.

     In a way they were the lucky ones.  Other Texas Germans, whose families had fled tyranny in the old country, were vilified, harassed, even whipped, tarred, feathered and shot.

     The story is told through the women ― his wife, mother and sister ― who loved Will and rallied to his side in the six-week trial that took place in Abilene.

     The author, who lives in El Paso, credits her lawyer-husband with helping re-create the trial, based on 3,000 pages of transcripts uncovered in research.

     Sometimes she overwrites and turns a tad florid (“sleep came like a carriage and carried her away”) but mostlyshe keeps her prose warm and tight with Texas touches, such as the praire dogs’ barking that heralds a train.

     Will may be the focus, but again it’s the Texas Women who stand like oaks in adversity.  Like the author, they believe, “It’s always good to remember who you are.  Especially in these troubled times.”

     Will’s War was scheduled for October release but was delayed after Sept. 11.  Little did Mrs. Windle know when she launched into re-search for this book in 1985 how timely it would be 17 years later.