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An Innocent Soldier Hardcover – October 1, 2005
From School Library Journal
Grade 8 Up–The book begins in 1811 in pre-unification Germany as a farmer enlists his unwitting farmhand, Adam, in Napoleon's Grande Armée under the name of his only son, Georg Bayh. The bewildered teen, who is sure that this great mistake will eventually be rectified, trains dutifully despite being continually harassed by a sadistic sergeant. He is saved when a young aristocratic lieutenant needs a servant, and his situation greatly improves. This is a tale of unlikely friends marching from Germany to Moscow with Napoleon's ill-fated invasion of Russia. While few battles are detailed, readers experience all of the horror, drudgery, and absurdity of war. Vivid descriptions include the endless walking, hustling for boots and warm clothing, gnawing hunger, and dysentery. Old-fashioned rules of engagement, etiquette, and a strict class system are all seamlessly worked into Adam's believable narrative. The boy grows from being a scared child to an obedient servant, to becoming a capable and resilient, if arguably less innocent, soldier. The first two thirds of first-person account are rich in period detail, but rarely broken up with dialogue, making it a tad slow going. The pacing somehow echoes the experiences of Napoleon's coalition army. Things pick up during its retreat, as the danger increases and the boys are able to lay aside class strictures to forge a true friendship. This is a well-wrought psychological tale that might have a difficult time finding an audience, but has a lot to offer to those seeking to build a deep historical fiction collection.–Christina Stenson-Carey, Albany Public Library, NY
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Gr. 8-11. In this unevenly translated novel, a teenaged farmhand is forced to take part in Napoleon's ill-fated Russian campaign. Unsuspecting orphan Adam is handed over to recruiting officers by the farmer he works for as a replacement for the man's drafted son. Assigned to the horse artillery, Adam leads a miserable life until the blue-blooded Lieutenant Konrad Klara requisitions him to become his personal servant. The young men head toward Moscow, but are soon overcome by hunger and disease. After witnessing many wartime atrocities, the two survive the suicide march out of Russia and form an unlikely bond that transcends class and station. Other than a brief historical note, little background information is given, assuming much prior knowledge on the part of the reader, and though the novel is evocative in places, the translation is replete with odd-sounding phrases and awkward transitions. The book's greatest strength is the friendship: a bond formed by two motherless boys from different classes who find common cause in an unwinnable war. Jennifer Hubert
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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This was a pretty good book. I have read some better books, but I still reccomend this book. It is a very interesting story and I really wanted to keep reading this book. I admit I do like to read about history more than most, but I've never rad about Napolean's war and I think this is a very good book, and I reccomend you read it.
"Then I suddenly feel my body heave. I sit down on an empty spot on the battlefield and vomit up half my stomach.
"For his part, Konrad Klara can hardly walk, but he helps get me back on my feet.
"Bare and naked we stumble about among the mutilated heroes.
"I narrow my eyes to the merest slit. So that I don't see everything. I'm only out for suitable trousers. Most of them are no use at all. They are slashed, holed, or sodden with blood. But here's a pair that might do for my lieutenant. Their wearer has been shot in the chest. The trousers didn't take any damage. Now's not the time to hang around. Yes or no. Stay naked or rob the dead. I drop to my knees in front of the dead soldier, and pull at his trousers. I'm in a hurry. I want it to be over. Fortunately, it's pretty dark. That way I can't see the dead man's face. The trousers are fashionably tight. I can't get them over the shoes. So shoes off, too. They are good shoes. They might fit me. I try them on. They're still warm. Why warm? The soldier twitches. He's alive.
"My head spins and everything goes black. I throw the shoes down and crawl away."
Adam Feucher is a sixteen-year-old orphan working as a stableboy in Germany in 1811. He's great with the horses. Never in his life has he been as far as town; he truly is an innocent. Then the farmer, to whom he essentially belongs, awakens him in the middle of the night, brings him to town, and dupes both he and the conscription commission into taking Adam as if he were actually the farmer's real (and only) son Georg. Such is the manner in which Adam becomes one of the nearly half-million men (and boys) heading for Russia in Napoleon's Grande Armee.
Konrad Klara is the young aristocratic lieutenant who eventually takes on handy-with-the-horses Adam as his personal servant, saving the stableboy-turned-reluctant soldier from the sadistic Sergeant Krauter.
The pair are extremely different in some ways, surprisingly similar in others. Together they watch each other's back and repeatedly save each other's life. Together they develop the sort of closer-than-brothers relationship that is so intense and intimate in its power that it transcends the book's historic fiction elements and war-as-insanity theme.
Of the many great things to be said about Mildred Taylor's THE LAND, it is the relationship between Paul Edward Logan and Mitchell Thomas which cements that book as one of my all-time favorite reads. There are far too few such intense guy relationships in YA fiction. AN INNOCENT SOLDIER is certainly one for my list.
Which is not to say that the gruesome and engrossing historic details of the march to Moscow (and back from Moscow for the few "lucky" survivors) are not thoroughly engaging. I knew next to nothing about Napoleon, his ill-advised strategy, and how many countries were involved in sending young men to their deaths. I am certainly glad that I've read it during sunny summertime, for I've shivered enough through the book as it is.
Adam Feucher's coming of age in the shadow of Napoleon is an immensely valuable picture of war, history, and friendship.
An Innocent Soldier is not one of these. I'd love to be able to say that it is, because the core story behind it is very solid. I've read that this book is actually a translation from Czech - if I read Czech I would certainly read the original before I passed judgement, because many of the flaws have to do more with the presentation of the story than the content. An especially irritating flaw is the translator's apparent hatred of the connecting comma - an example taken straight from Richie Partington's (5-star) review on this site:
"There are so many trousers lying here, some bloody, some clean. Depending on whether the soldiers were shot in their upper or lower halves."
The only reason for not using a comma here (as the second part is actually a sentence fragment - if this were high school English, I would break out the red ink) is, I guess, a desire to stay *very* close to the original Czech. While staying close to the original is always a good goal for any translation, there is a point where it is taken too far, and this is just one of the many places (perhaps as many as three per page in some parts) where it is definitely taken too far. English obviously has different grammar rules, and blindly placing the period where it originally went doesn't always work.
There are, however, other problems with the book that probably don't stem from overly literal translation. The characters are flat and unimaginative, especially the villain of the piece, Sergeant Krauter. The sergeant has perhaps two lines of dialogue, and has apparently no motive behind his nasty actions beyond pure cruelty. If this were made apparent through dialogue and action, then Krauter would be a very nasty, but believable character, as so many characters motivated by cruelty become. Krauter, however, falls into the other bin of cruel characters - the flat, uninteresting bin. He also rarely does anything that is very bad.
The true enemy that Adam, the narrator, and his master and later friend Lt. Konrad Klara encounter is the long, pointless march to and from Russia, which is a constant source of discomfort, pain, and misery. The senselessness of the march and the war is a much more real, deep threat than the senselessness of Krauter.
Adam is fleshed out more than the others, but since he is the narrator, he is often just the interface to the story. Konrad is simply flat and uninteresting. Mostly, Adam and Konrad are uninteresting because they don't talk to each other that much, even though they are apparently together 24 hours a day. Teen books are typically somewhat simple, but the approach of simplifying the book by reducing dialogue to a minimum is unsatisfying and counterproductive. Dialogue is easier to relate to than description.
Overall, An Innocent Soldier is not high-quality fare. I began reading it out of boredom when a friend had the book (but hadn't yet read it) and I had nothing better to do. If you're in such a situation, then it's good enough to read if you can bear its flaws.