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Soldier of the Great War Mass Market Paperback – May, 1992

4.4 out of 5 stars 428 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.

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 out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Avon Books; Reprint edition (May 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0380715899
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380715893
  • Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 4.2 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (428 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,908,344 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
One of the truly great works of American fiction. I will go so far to say as it is the finest work of fiction I've read written in the last half of the 20th century.

In "A Soldier of the Great War" Mark Helprin creates a story encompassing the whole of humanity weaving reality with a world of fantastic wonder. The unbelievable becomes real and what seems simple is only deceptively so and bends into the fascinatingly complex.

Helprin's style is enigmatic; his tale told in equal parts masculine bravado and contemplative delicacy. It is nothing short of astonishing.

Beginning with the preparation for a visit to his daughter, we follow the elderly Alessandro Giuliani on a seemingly routine bus journey. Things turn and a short journey turns into adventure when the old man comes to the aid of a teenager and he begins sharing his story and the lessons learned over a life rich and eventful. A life of youthful privilege gives way to the horrors of WWI and discoveries of love, loss and destiny.

Helprin elevates American fiction to that pantheon we reserve for storytellers the likes of Dickens, Cervantes, Dumas and Hesse. With this book (and to a certain degree "Winter's Tale")- he tightens the gap between great writers of "then" and "now" bringing contemporary fiction a true and rare respectability.

All adulation would, of course, mean nothing if this were receiving accolades solely on style and structure and ignoring the "readability" factor. On that front, I can only say this is a book I cannot imagine anyone not falling in love with and that, my friends, is the rarest book of all.
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Format: Hardcover
Mark Helprin once offered this advice to an aspiring writer on how best to construct a work, to grab the attention of the reader (and here I can only paraphrase, as I have misplaced the source document): "Treat your story as if a stone thrown into a still pool, coming to rest at the bottom. Then dive in after it." The paraphrase is accurate enough for my purposes, and the message is clear: Know well the end of your journey before you begin it.

Little did I know then, when I had meandered across Helprin's advice, that it would be central to my ability to write my thoughts on "A Soldier of the Great War." For about the same length of time as that advice had been imprinted somewhere in my brain, I had also been faced with the daunting prospect of commenting on a thrice-read book, now bulging with scores of page markers as reminders to me of phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and even full pages, all worthy of comment. And, it seemed, the longer I put this task off, the more daunting it became.

Fortunately, this block was broken in the recent past, when I needed to give careful thought to a birthday gift for a friend. The gift couldn't appear to be too lavish, except in the riches of its contents. It needed to be something that would be new to this friend (and here I was at some risk), and at the same time something that would not soon - if ever - be forgotten. In the end, I decided to chance it with "A Soldier of the Great War," enclosing a brief note regarding what was in store. And the working through of that note was the curative that I needed for providing my comments on this Helprin work. So I threw my own stone into the pool and dove in after it.
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Format: Paperback
I'd read many of Helprin's editorials in the Wall Street Journal and was impressed with the literary skill he exhibited. So, when I ran across this book I thought I would give it a try. I really didn't know what to expect, although I did know it had had some glowing reviews. I read about thirty of the previous reviews here and nearly all of them contain valuable insights, including those mentioning the book's flaws. However, none of the reviews I read explicitly mentioned the fact that this is one of the better anti-war books written this century. It is best because of its optimism. Helprin describes, vividly, how war degrades or destroys all that is beautiful and lovely in our world: idyllic childhoods, family relationships, precious traditions, neighborhoods, society and its mores, love and romance, religious sensibilities, art - even the seemingly impregnable mountains are violated. Yet, despite numerous horrific experiences, Alessandro is saved in the end because he never lost his appreciation for "beautiful things", symbolized throughout the book by Giorgio's painting. There is much humor in this book. Some of it is bawdy. There are also many scenes of heart-wrenching sadness and exhilarating joy. However, there are sections that drag on too long, and after at least one of Alessandro's lucky breaks I found myself rolling my eyes and thinking, "Oh, brother." Despite these flaws, Mark Helprin is a gifted writer who has the rare ability to make you completely lose yourself while reading his work. Highly recommended!
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
After scrolling through endless "10"s, eloquently written, it's hard to know what to add to the accolades heaped upon this novel by your readers, but I'll try!

Mark Helprin has written the 'perfect' book! This novel has everything - philosophy, adventure, great drama, pathos and tragedy, surrealism (of the John Irving type), comedy, romance, art history, riveting characterization, imaginative plotting and structure, and evocative writing.

As an English and history teacher, with a grim fascination for the horror that was WWI, I was astounded by the brilliance of having the main character, a student of aesthetics, confronting the ugliness of the war. This novel just worked for me. The sweep of the character's wanderings, from the Italian Alps, to the dusty hills of Sicily; from the catacombs of Rome to the back streets of Venice, are especially appealing to those who have visited Italy. There are scenes that are seared into my mind - like the one in the Carrera marble quarry, where the marble that once supplied the great Renaissance masters now supplies gravestones for a million dead Italian soldiers.

This novel inspired me to go to Venice to view "La Tempesta" myself. It's that kind of book. Read it. You WON"T be disappointed.
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