Friday, 20 January 2012

Peace is about war. It is about the moral choices which are made in horrible split seconds and about the men who are called on to make those decisions. In very spare but evocative prose Richard Bausch tells the story of four men who are on a scouting mission after an incident involving a German soldier shot at close range after he was discovered hiding with a prostitute in cart. The German shoots dead two American GIs before being shot dead himself. The sergeant summarily shoots the prostitute in the head.

Three of the men are young American GIs and one is an old Italian man who has been pressed into leading them into unknown territory. The young men from disparate backgrounds are thrust together and squabble, jeer and needle each other as they climb a seemingly endless hill in a deadly cold, winter. Can they trust their guide? Can they trust each other or even themselves to do what is right…or if not right at least what is necessary to survive their mission?

The setting is bleak and is so well rendered that you can feel the bone chilling cold as it saps the strength of the men. The weather and the prose are stark but the moral decisions the men must make are not. Where the right path lies is left an open question but the ending I found surprisingly hopeful, reaffirming a young man ability to do what is necessary to keep hold of his humanity in the face of the insanity of war.

The book group all agreed the book was an excellent depiction of men at war. The prose was described as “Hemingwayesque”. There was not much back story given about the characters but just enough to get a sense of their disparate background. The men “treat each other like many other men do” in the words of one member. They are rough and insulting but in the end committed to each other. Another member saw in the books the distillation of many war movies from the 1940’s and 50s.
The book made this reader and others in the group, interested in reading other books by Richard Bausch. Who is a well respected writer in the USA but not well known in the UK. .