Sometimes there is a book that just changes the way you think, that gives you new insight into who you are and what your role in the universe is. On the Road is not that book.
I read this primarily because it appeared on a list of "100 must-read books". I'm a sucker for those lists, since I read voraciously and with little discrimination. In this case we have a book that is supposed to have been world-shaking and life-changing. The blurb on the back says "The book the shook straight America", but in my opinion, the only shaking was the tremors that came from readers thudding to the floor unconscious from boredom. Now I realize that the world of 1955 may have been a bit different from today, but there is still nothing about this to make it stand out. I felt not one whit of sympathy for the characters (or even interest in their fate) and the events are just a series of typical young-man-on-the-loose vignettes. Maybe you have to be stoned to get anything out of it, or maybe it just isn't a very well written book. My money's on the latter.
Monday, October 26, 2009
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Friday, October 16, 2009
The Eastern Front was a pretty grim place for any German soldier at any time during the Second World War. Even when things were going well it was a hard-fought battle and when things started to go badly they quickly became very, very bad. I've long been interested in that Eastern Front experience and this is another of my books that covers it. Günter Koschorrek actually kept a diary during the war, even though that was forbidden by army rules, and that diary is the basis of his account. He did not fight in the actual Stalingrad battle, but basically fought throughout the long retreat. He was wounded several times and saw most of his friends die, so he basically writes this as a memorial to all those who died on both sides and to honor their memories.
Overall I can't rate this as the best WWII Eastern Front narrative I've ever read, although it is very personal in feeling. The major drawback for me is that there is very little explanatory material to put the local events into the context of the entire battle. The viewpoint is definitely solely that of the individual soldier in the trench, crouched behind his machine gun. Because of this and the diary format of the narrative (it is almost just a transcription of his diary in many places) the account seems rather disjointed to me and often left me trying to figure out just what was going on. Despite this I found it an overall good read with plenty of detail about both the daily lives of the soldiers and what they were thinking at the time.
I give this book a moderate recommendation with the caveat that if you have a particular interest in the Eastern Front or first-person WWII narratives in general then it is a worthwhile read if not addition to your library.