Saturday, August 23, 2014

Review: "A Solider of the Great War" by Mark Helprin

I went back and forth on what to rate this book, but finally, I had to go one lower than what I was going to rate because although it is bookended by good scenes, Mark Helprin’s A Solider of the Great War is an 800 page book that feels all of its 800 pages. That number is even more harrowing when I realized a fatal flaw that makes the middle 700 pages quite a slog. I have said before that a long book should be shortened by at least 100 pages or even 200 pages, but this book needed it badly, with that middle section being jam-packed and overstuffed with repetitive details and weak characters that suck the energy out of the story and the intrigue of the main character. It should have been only about 200 pages at the most, shortening this epic by half its length. The epic in questions starts out strong, with a minor incident that hides the more vast story to come. Alessandro, and aging professor of Aesthetics or beauty, if you want to get down to simple terms (I didn’t know that was a major) is thrown off of a train to Rome when he tries to help out a kid who does not have the bus fare. They are stranded, and to pass the time while they walk to Rome, which takes two days, Alessandro tells the kid his story of a life that began in great fortune, but went to hell almost as quickly when he enlists to fight in WWI. The books has memorable scenes, like one taking place during an execution by firing squad, but the novel has no real heart and no real purpose, at least one that I can see. The people Alessandro meets are painfully one-dimensional, and Alessandro himself is not really that interesting. The good scenes are completely outweighed by the bad, so I can’t really recommend reading this novel.

Rating: 2/5

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