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Showing 1-10 of 257 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 455 reviews
on November 19, 2014
This Book drew me in the way "Gates of Fire" and "Killer Angels" did. I always wanted to know what was to happen next, but not in the form of a cliffhanger, but because I was so interested in the character, and the well-written cast around him.The main character is flawed, likeable, interesting,

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.
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A friend recommended this epic book to me despite knowing I wasn't fond of Helprin's novels. Well, he certainly perceived my taste fittingly, and I am forever indebted to him for persuading me to read this beautiful, evocative, deeply resonating story of a soldier-scholar living through WW I.

This is not like any other war novel I have read, and I've read a number of them. Although you are taken inside the reality of war--in the muddy trenches, in the grasp of grenades, marching with battalions, and tramping through the punishing terrain and climactic extremes, the focus isn't limited to the strategies/hierarchies/bureaucracies of war games, although they are present and compelling. This is a story of an Italian aesthetic, Alessandro Giuliani, who is devoted to life, humanity, and art, and whose love for one woman is inexhaustible. He is as passionate about the song of a bird, the luminosity of a star, the tufts of clouds, and the play of light and color on a painting, as he is of surviving the war.

The jacket art on my edition is a partial view of La Tempesta, by Giorgione, a Renaissance painting that plays a pivotal role in the story. The eloquence of Helprin's tribute to this work of art, through Alessandro's sensitivity and regard to its poignancy, left me breathless. I have never been so exquisitely moved by a painting through a novel, and I vow to visit the Accademia in Venice someday and stand in front of its powerful beauty.

This is a novel to keep handy on a shelf once you have finished reading it, just to have access to its potent passages. You can open to any page and find poetry in prose. It elevates my thoughts to embody Alessandro and his five senses. Here is an example of the book's uncommon beauty that shines everywhere on these pages:

"It seemed unbelievable that the sky, twisting and boiling like burning phosphorous, was silent, for its light and thunder suggested thunder, explosions, and the sound of the sea. The stars were busy and intent, as if before the moon came up they had to unburden themselves of all they had seen during the daylight hours, when they could not speak. Now they ran riot, and their light made the snowfields breathlessly dim."

This is one of the most exalting contemporary novels I have ever read. It demands patience, as it is not only hefty, but dense as well, with long chapters and copious forays into detailed and metaphorical description. This is a book for an ardent reader who desires a sensory experience with exuberant narrative scope. After finishing it, I felt still and quiet, as if in repose, and then I wept, reflected, and avidly thanked the literature gods for sending this to me. I like to think I am an improved person for having read this exceptionally cultivated novel of the human condition.
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on October 15, 2013
I have never read a book that so masterfully combines in such a comprehensive and poignant way the terrors of combat, the disintigration of an old world order, and the pain and loss of a generation that affects us all even today. As the grandson of a survivor of the Great War and the Isonzo campaign who then spent years in Austrian captivity I now more clearly understand his reluctant emigration to America, his simplicity of spirit, devotion to family, and lifelong courage in the face of adversity and ultimately in his passing. Halprin ties together so beautifully Western man's understanding of the cosmos, art, literature, philosophy, God, nature, and science from an unmistakably Italian point of view in an unmistakably Italian setting. Having stared at the Perseids shooting overhead one Italian August night dealing with my own meager experience with war in the 1960s, I have found the words that had been lost to me in explaining unrivaled love, joy, and hope. I can no longer visit places in the Friuli or Veneto or even Rome again without seeing them through Halprin's eyes. It is a life affirming and at the same time life altering story!
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on August 7, 2015
We're introduced to the character when he's an older man, but we still see a firy spirit. It seems to be sometime in 1960's and Alessandro is on a bus in Italy. It's the last stop for over 20 miles and there's a young man racing and trying to catch the bus. The driver had skipped the last stop and is ignoring the young man. Alessandro presses the driver to stop by saying that he himself has to get off and allows the young man time to make the bus. When the bus driver refuses to allow the young man to go on, Alessandro says that he will get off also. The bus driver doesn't care and leaves them both many miles from their destination.
Alessandro proceeds to walk with great vigor, not in line with what you would expect from a man his age. Over the course of their movements, Alessandro begins to tell the story of his early years and especially the hardships he underwent during the time of the "Great War".
He was involved in many battles and situations, and very often was reported to have been killed. During the time that he's serving, his mother passes away, and then his father, and of all his close friends he's the only survivor. We follow as he puts his all into whatever he does, we witness the courage and the drive, as he does things that are considered extremely brave, but he feels it's what he's supposed to be doing.
We get a glimpse into the suffering that the Great War brought unto the soldiers, the families, and the people whose territory was overrun by soldiers. We see the senseless killings of each army's own soldiers for desertion, when they aren't really guilty of it, but because of the war, examples have to be made.
Along the way, the dialogue sometimes seems to be out of something from Abbot and Costello, Who's on First skit, as Alessandro is witty and sometimes has no patience for people who don't catch on. This is refreshing in the beginning, but you feel like jumping over much of those parts as the book proceeds.
In the end, the book is as much a depiction of the character's philosophy, which is honed by both his upbringing, as well as the ordeals he is exposed to, both before and after the war. It's both uplifting and sad at the same time and you feel you'll miss reading of Alessandro because of determination and his awareness that money is secondary to what's more important in life.
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on June 5, 2013
In the end, I love someone who can put a positive spin on just about everything. This is an epic story that begins before WWI and ends after WW2 but is mainly about a highly educated and hopelessly romantic soldier in WW1. The hero of the story can hear opera and see classic art in his very creative mind even in the darkest situations imaginable during war. He really takes on superhero proportions, surviving impossible situations one after another. If there is any criticism, it is that his survival and optimism is sometimes just unbelievable, and it happens over and over. But the prose and though is incredibly beautiful. This is an idealist mind in an imperfect world who is blessed to survive and have a vision of the meaning of life that to me is very satisfying. It is a long book, but worth it in the end. Reminded me a little of Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain in terms of the quality of writing.
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on May 19, 2015
Do yourself a favor, and read this book. It is not simply good; it is fantastic. Set aside all the trendy, the young adult, the NY Times bestsellers and the award-winning curiosities to read A Soldier of the Great War. Helprin's work can easily be set next to the likes of Tolstoy or Faulkner or Flaubert as what a great novel is supposed to be. Although it is not a "page-turner" in the sense of an adventure or mystery, you will find you got to the end of more than 800 pages and wonder where they all went to.

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.
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VINE VOICEon February 21, 2013
I've read a great deal of Helprin now, and I still think Winter's Tale to be his magnum opus, despite a certain preachiness in it which is likewise endemic to all his works. The great thing about Helprin, to those who have never encountered him, as almost all the positive reviewers will tell you, is his stunningly lyrical prose. I would go so far as to say that readers who have no appreciation of poetry will not have the capacity to hear the music in his books or, indeed, to abide Helprin.

To this particular book, the thing which sets it apart from his other works, for me, is that it kept reminding me of another work: War and Peace. Like War and Peace, it has long philosophical digressions. The heroes, Alessandro and Pierre, very much resemble the respective authors themselves, and both of them - after much harrowing travail, wherein we learn much history (about, say, Eritrea or Borodino) - get the girl. Above all, both books, though thoroughly inbrued in the gore and horror of war, nevertheless impart to the reader the glory and brevity of human life.

I don't have much else to add here that the other 202 reviewers haven't already written well and copiously about, save to quote from Alessandro/Helprin the passage that best represents to me the deep sensibility underlying the work:

"As he stood in the darkening street, he recognized a pattern in his life. He had learned very quickly, not merely by devoted study but by some natural sympathy, to enter so fully into a painting or a song that he could cross into a world of harrowing beauty and there receive, as he floated on air, the deep, absolute, and instant confirmation of hopes and desires that in normal life are a matter only of speculation and debate."

Tolstoy too, of course, is well-known for his mystical moments.

Addendum: I can't help adding that I strongly feel that all who deeply appreciate this work will also appreciate the well-nigh forgotten American masterpiece, Raintree County. I simply can't imagine a reader loving one work and not the other.
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on May 3, 2017
Wonderful story and an inside look at the ravages of war (World War I) from the perspective of an Italian participant. Worth the read because there are not that many good books about World War I. Alessandro is a very engaging character who readers will instantly warm to. An elongated loose version of All Quiet on the Western Front. I didn't rate it higher because the book was difficult to get through because of its wordiness and lengthy prose that digressed from the story line. While well-written, the book could have been half its length without the prose. Perhaps the prose was part of the author's exercise. That part of the book did not appeal to me.
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on July 31, 2014
It is one hundred years since the "war to end all wars" and much is being unearthed about that conflict. Just this week CBS reported on the number of WW! monuments around the country falling into disrepair because there are no more veterans left to pay homage to or celebrate. Besides they are far overshadowed by 'the Greatest Generation'. Yet WWI stands as the seminal conflict of the bloodiest century in history. And Mark Helprin has cleverly and succinctly captured much of itl in his depiction of an old man's attempt to transmutate wisdom from one generation to another.

Helprin's choice of combatants - an Italian, and his chosen antagonist - a young propeller intern - and his chosen scenes of combat in the eastern Alps and Sicily, appear both random and odd. The Italians did not participate in the larger battles of this great global conflict. The Alps are almost as far from Flanders and Verdun as Sarajevo and the oft-forgotten origins of the shot that stated the conflict are from Paris. The protagonist is a hero who, in his own mind's eye, loses it all yet manages to escape numerous times through deft displays of courage, heroism and the occasional whim of a deformed scribe. And he does save 25 years with the woman he loves. Alessandro, our hero, is really a vessel for carrying history forward, for one more generation, at least.

The book is extremely well written with prose that more than adequately describes Rome, the Italian countryside and seaside (both coasts), the Alps and all that is beautiful about what once constituted the heart of the Roman Empire. The text is rich in every aspect of great writing. If I could find a single flaw, it would be that Helprin tends to say in thousands of words what others might overlook or say in just a few. But perhaps that is what makes the Soldier of the Great War not just a good book and a better read, it renders it a classic. So what if Hemingway would have thrown it overboard had he taken it on 'Pilar' for a read while day fishing in the Caribbean? The book is far too worthy to be condemned to a telegram-like review.
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on September 12, 2014
This is a realllly long book.
Earlier this year, when I saw the movie based on Winter's Tale, I was so disoriented by the adaptation that I thought I had misremembered the book. I re-read Winter's Tale (which is not much like the movie) and was totally charmed by Mark Helprin - I needed to read more.
Well, more is exactly what I got in A Soldier of the Great War. I have been reading it off and on, between other books, since February. I finally finished it only because it was the lone book I took on a two week vacation that involved long plane, train, boat and bus rides. I felt like I had run a marathon when I was done.
This hauntingly beautiful and thoughtful portrait of a man who survives World War 1, and of Europe, and of beauty would have been a 4 star book if only it were a few hundred pages shorter!
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