Further Musings

Beauty smote his heart, he looked up from the forsaken land & hope returned to him

A Soldier of the Great War

with 2 comments

On Sunday I finished my first novel of the summer: A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin. It is the story of an elderly Italian professor of aesthetics who recounts his journey through WWI to an illiterate factory work over the course of several days. The majority of the story is told in flashback.

It is a strange book with some of the absurdity of Catch-22, some of the horror of All Quiet on the Western Front, some of the impassioned language of Love in the Time of Cholera and a lot of beautiful, descriptive language. There is a faith in it that I cant quite put my finger on: a faith in beauty and God that is stirring and yet ghastly at the same time. Ill need to think on it some more.

Part of what unnerved me about it is that he touched on ideas that I have thought before but have never heard anyone else explicitly say. The book is almost a manifesto, but a manifesto for what? Any help from those who have read it?

Written by furthermusings

May 20, 2004 at 5:30 pm

Posted in Reviews

2 Responses

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  1. How familiar are you with Helprin? He is a Jew who has served in the Israeli Air Force and also has written speeches for Bob Dole’s presidential campaign.

    For some time I was on the M Helprin discussion list (before it just petered out), and it was always fascinating to hear folks who loved his fiction but were repelled by his conservative politics.

    Anyhow, it’s hard to put a finger on his aesthitics. He seems to think beauty is very important, but important to what end? He’s also an avid climber, which is something that pops up a bit in that novel.

    Certain scenes in Soldier moved me more than anything I’ve ever read elsewhere, specifically the “death row” section.

    As far as the faith question, as I mentioned, he is not a christian, but a jew, so his ideas there are different. I tried not to worry about that as I was reading him, just enjoying the marvelous story he had to tell. His other succesful novel, Winter’s Tale, has a lot more about beauty in it, but it is an entirely different creature, though wonderful in its own way.

    Always glad to find people to discuss Helprin with 🙂

    Paul Baxter

    May 20, 2004 at 11:26 pm

  2. I was thumbing through it again today looking for quotes. It struck me again what a brutal role death plays in the book. The deaths are always so subtle and unexpected. Thumbing through it again I could feel the emotions of it. I was looking for a certain passage on love and couldn’t find it. I did, however, finally put together that the girl I had been longing to see reappear from the first part of the book turned out to be the wife in the end.

    Paul, you are right about the prominence of climbing. Since I’ve done a bit of climbing in my younger days that part didn’t really stick out to me.

    I loved the imagery of the painting. That was a nice touch that I wasn’t expecting.


    May 22, 2004 at 11:35 pm

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