- Paperback: 880 pages
- Publisher: Mariner Books; 1 edition (June 1, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0156031132
- ISBN-13: 978-0156031134
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.6 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 459 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #93,115 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Soldier of the Great War Paperback – June 1, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Energetic prose, poetic images of great intensity and an antic imagination combine in this gripping moral fable narrated by a septuagenarian irrevocably altered by WW I. This BOMC main selection was on PW 's hardcover bestseller list for eight weeks.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Library Journal
In summer 1964, a distinguished-looking gentleman in his seventies dismounts on principle from a streetcar that was to carry him from Rome to a distant village, instead accompanying on foot a boy denied a fare. As they walk, he tells the boy the story of his life. A young aesthete from a privileged Roman family, Alesandro Giuliani found his charmed existence shattered by the coming of World War I. The war led to an onerous tour of duty, inadvertent desertion, near-execution, forced labor, service high in the Italian Alps that took advantage of his (and Helprin's) skill at mountain climbing, capture by the enemy, and return home, dispossessed of most of his friends and family. Along the way, he gains, loses, and eventually rediscovers love. This rousingly good story of survival is all the more remarkable in the telling. The language is rich without cloying, complex yet luminous in Helprin's best style. In a number of thoughtful philosophical passages as engaging as any adventure story, Alesandro struggles to reconcile his appreciation of beauty and his religious faith with the horror around him. That he finally persuades us to believe in a "God without any hope, in a God of splendor and terror" is testimony to the indomitable human spirit. Highly recommended. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/91.
-Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
The book takes Alessandro through a series of situations and adventures almost like "Candide". You wonder if he will survive, stay true to himself, his family, country, comrades, and love. He evolves from a somewhat self-absorbed lightweight intellectual into a man nearly parallel with the Greek ideal of warrior-poet.
The book covers some of the alpine fighting in World War I, as well as the periods before and immediately after the war. Alessandro knows more than his share of the trials of the military, The writing is tight. compact, but in no way dense. There is a lot of "there" there.
The central theme of the book is not the war, but the specific character in it, and how it affects him. Don't get it as a reference book for the war, but do get it, and go on the journey for the sake of the beauty of the trip.
I very much liked it, and I will read it again, because I want to go through those experiences with Alessandro again.
"Rome is a training school for the heavenly city, a jumping-off place. You take earthly pleasures and gracefully translate them to the language of the divine."
"That's called art," Alessandro said.
"But what if death is only a void?"
"Even if heaven doesn't exist, I will have experienced it beforehand, because I will have created it."
Spoken like someone who truly lives each day, each moment (!) to the fullest and as if it could be his last.
You can find the summary of the plot elsewhere, so I will simply add to what makes it so wonderful. A complex, larger-than-life main character. Philosophical questions that don't rest in easy answers. Historical detail--or better, "historical" detail with a small "h," where history becomes the lived life of people in real circumstances. Hard-nosed, realistic, unsentimental attention to war and betrayal and suffering mixed with inspiring meditations on beauty, art and love. And above all, prose that will make you believe in literature again. From time to time the novel teeters on the unbelievable, the nearly impossibly magical, and yet the precision of the prose, the inventiveness of metaphor and accuracy of observation, carries you past it and into moments not only of belief but of deep appreciation.
There is only one drawback I can think of, and that is it is hard to switch to the next book. After reading such a work, the next one (as I know from experience) can't compare.