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Anatomy of a Soldier (171 POCHE) Paperback – December 29, 2016
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About the Author
- Publisher : Faber & Faber; Main edition (December 29, 2016)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 320 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0571325831
- ISBN-13 : 978-0571325832
- Item Weight : 10.9 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.24 x 0.79 x 7.76 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #8,276,475 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Here we see war from both sides told from the perspective of forty-five inanimate objects. Using this original approach Parker allows us to get really close to his characters giving us an insight not only to their actions but their thoughts and feelings as well. By switching perspective from the wounded British soldier, BA5799, to the insurgents and those just hoping to get by in a country under siege, he keeps things interesting and what may have become a gimmick over time stays fresh right to the end.
Parker can write with authority as one who has experienced the pain of war and we should all be thankful that he has put it all down in words for us to learn from. Amazing and highly recommended.
I was given an advanced copy by the publisher, via Netgalley, for an honest review.
Obviously, we learn early on that Barnes is horrifically injured by an IED explosion while on patrol in Afghanistan, hence the chapters narrated by hospital equipment and artificial limbs. But it is not just Barnes's story that is told here. We also follow the stories of two young Afghan men: Latif, who has been recruited by the insurgents, and Faridun, who has resisted, but still wants to maintain their boyhood friendship. Their stories are told, variously, by an automatic rifle, a bicycle, a sack of fertilizer, a wheelbarrow, etc.
Parker's unusual choice of narrative device works reasonably well, but only up to a point. The story is not told chronologically either, which presents another minor difficulty. While I can understand that Parker wanted his story to be different from other war novels, I still found his method occasionally confusing and even mildly annoying. I began to wish he'd just TOLD THE STORY, either from an omniscient point of view, or using Captain Barnes's own voice. Nevertheless, if you can stay with it, the trip is worth the trouble. Tom Barnes comes through, finally, as an ordinary young man who wanted to prove himself and to serve his country, and pays dearly for it, as does his family. The two young Afghans featured are not quite so clearly drawn, but their roles are woven cleverly into the narrative, adding depth to the story and giving a wrenchingly human face to that "other side," so often missing from war novels.
Despite the inanimate object viewpoints, there are scenes in ANATOMY OF A SOLDIER that may bring you close to tears or cause you to wince in horror. In one, Barnes, still recovering, is back home with his family again, where he breaks down, weeping -
"I've got no legs. That will never get better ... It's all wrong. I feel like I've been chosen for a main part I never wanted to play and everyone's come to watch. They're all watching me, looking to see what's happened, what's gone wrong. Half of them I don't even know. I don't want them to see ... I'll never run again, or dance, or do anything normal ..."
Or, in another scene, narrated by the shock wave of the explosion that maimed Barnes -
"I ripped up his leg, flapping his calf off in my wind. I stripped his trousers away and his penis fluttered in my storm. I pulled open his testicle. I dragged bone deep into his thigh, pushing through pink flesh and vessels, bursting open grey globules of fat. I went through him, shocking his nerves and muscles and jarring his spine, crushing him in his armor ..."
There are similarly shocking scenes which follow the fates of the two young Afghans, one of the worst narrated by a wheelbarrow bearing a disfigured and broken body, driven by a grief-stricken father resolved to confront the British soldiers with what they have done. His approach to their outpost with its armed watchtowers was reminiscent of scenes from another novel from the same war, Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya's THE WATCH. Likewise, another scene, narrated by a medal, a decoration being awarded to Barnes, made me suddenly remember Dalton Trumbo's 1939 novel, JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN, a classic of anti-war literature with it limbless, faceless protagonist. Barnes, in pain, and struggling to stay upright on his new artificial legs, looks out at the soldiers in attendance at the ceremony and thinks -
"He was a maimed relic that everyone wanted to forget. None of the men in those ranks wanted to be reminded of the truth - of what might happen. I am that truth he thought."
Narrative methods or devices aside, Harry Parker, a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, has written a powerful story of war and its consequences that will certainly be talked about and much-discussed, perhaps for years to come. I will recommend it highly.
- Tim Bazzett, author of the Cold War memoir, SOLDIER BOY: AT PLAY IN THE ASA
Top reviews from other countries
Not at all: this is the most dispassionate book I've ever read, but it's as hard to categorise as it is to review. The story is simple ~ soldier stands on an IED (an amateur land-mine), loses both legs and is flown home to be fitted with prosthetics. A second dimension in the book introduces the teenager who made the IED, the village elder who tries to keep his neighbours from harm, and the teenager's best friend (the elder's son) who won't join the insurgents.
Now for the third dimension ~ the story is told, in disjointed episodes, by some unlikely players. We learn from the IED what it feels like to be made ready under a dusty road surface (a chapter ending with the words “I functioned”). A surgeon's electric saw tells us about waiting on a sterile table with other tools until it starts its work on a shattered bone, and we learn how a lethal infection tries to survive in a gangrenous wound. There are chapters written by a mother's handbag, a beer glass, and some pre-Afghan photos thoughtlessly brought to the legless hero's bedside.
This is what gives the book its force: because it is narrated by 45 inanimate objects, they bring a totally objective viewpoint. There's no emotion in the writing – but plenty frustration, pity, anger and sorrow among the spectators these objects encounter; the hero's distraught mother and resigned but practical father, his friends, and the wife of the village elder. Those who have active parts to play in the tragedy simply get on with their work.
Some of that work comes in unsparing detail ~ the tools used for surgery in the field and in the UK describe themselves in clinical terms. The field radio offers a verbatim account of the fatal operation, and if you want to know what an IED blast does, chapter 42 will lead you on the whole journey from the first footstep through to the pressure on the helmet. You will learn as much about making an Afghan rug as you will learn about the conversations on it when the soldiers met the peacemaker elder. From a barrow you'll learn about the elder bringing his son's body to the army base, and from banknotes you will learn of the father's shame at accepting compensation for his loss.
I've used that word “learn” a lot, but one thing you won't learn is any easy answer to all the questions you'll be asking yourself right through the book. (Review originally published in Chesil Magazine, Dorset)
The book is about a soldier who steps on an IED and sustains a huge, life changing injury. Throughout the book we see the lead up to the bomb, the actual bomb exploding and the time afterwards though the eyes of 45 objects, all of which are involved in some way. The different perspectives show an almost incredible imagination as human thoughts and emotions are viewed from an observer that can be completely detached. As the reader your attention is kept in a heightened state as perspectives continually change.
The visceral feeling to the writing enhances the senses of the reader as you are able to see, hear and feel what is around the narrator at that point.
Very odd is the pick cover on the paperback copy that I read - the hardback design is much more appropriate. The pink is stylish but completely inappropriate and I would never have picked this up randomly in a bookshop.
Reading the book is unsettling and its supposed to be. As well as the object of the narrative changing frequently we also jump around in time - but there is never any confusion just an uncomfortable pull which won't go away. There are two distinct time periods - before whilst in Afghanistan and after whilst in the UK - and we flip between the two. The fighting is confused and will probably be more clear if you have some understanding of military operations but there is enough description to make the movements reasonably clear.
This book is an amazing read which I will recommend to many people as an unique exploration of a terrifying event.
Even though the objects are inanimate, there are times when I held back the tears. I could imagine the hospital bed, or the hot camp, and the terrorists planting IEDs. The emotion coming through with empathetic compassion. My only criticism is that each chapter should start with a heading of what the objects are to save the reader from pulling back from the story.
The only reason I read this was our Book Club put it on the roster. I hated every minute of it as the style and gimmicks meant I could not connect with the charcters in any way.
Strongly not recomended.