Maybe it was because I was tired – I’m not sure. But as I read this chapter on the train to work today, it just struck me as being so achingly moving. All these soldiers, knowing they’re about to die, just mucking around with little trivial things – anything to take their mind off the battle.
It reminds me a little bit about what I love most about the Shaara war novels – there is an aching sadness to war that is captured that we so often miss (especially in Hollywood war battles). There is meant to be something devastating about so many people waiting to die.
And then . . . we experience it all through Andrei. For some reason, despite having read the book twice, seen the Russian film at least three times, I could never remember what happened after the moment where the grenade lands near him (though I do remember it spinning for an inordinately long length of time). Now I do remember. (Maybe my mind blocked it out.)
Again, we see history repeating itself, as Andrei cops a beating in the thick of battle. It’s funny – this time, he doesn’t have a glorious revelation of the sky, of everything vast and unknowable. This time, it’s simply a clinging to life – realising that, for all its misery, he still wants to be alive. All of this is simply summed up in the closing sentences, “Why was I so sorry to part with life? There was something in this life that I didn’t understand, and don’t understand.”
I apologise to any of the readers who are getting a bit battled out (this is the longest book we’ve had to read so far). It can be a bit much. But, really, you won’t find war writing much better than this anywhere.