A World War I sniper's dreams of glory collide with the terrible reality of combat.
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On the day I finished reading The Sojourn, Andrew Krivak’s riveting novel about World War I, the last surviving male veteran of that “war to end all wars” died. Claude Choules was 110 when he passed away at a nursing home in Perth, Australia, and I wonder what he would have thought of Krivak’s story about a sniper who undergoes the standard hells of war literature before arriving at uneasy peace with himself on the last page. Though Choules was a seaman with the British Royal Navy, I suspect he shared the same kind of scarred psyche as Jozef Vinich, the Austrian sharpshooter in "The Sojourn" who comes marching home full of “grief and desolation.” Mr. Choules was, after all, a pacifist.
And isn’t that the resonant effect of most war literature – to turn readers’ hearts and minds against militarized conflict? There is, of course, a strand of fiction which celebrates and glorifies the act of man killing man, but the most serious and enduring works of literature provoke us to reconsider the ends in light of the means. Think of "All Quiet on the Western Front," "A Farewell to Arms," even "Catch-22," and it’s the horrors of battle scenes which stick in our memory and pour cold water on delusions of war's grandeur (though nations seem little able to remember the lesson).
"The Sojourn" is no exception and, in terms of the power of its prose, deserves to be placed on the same shelf as Remarque, Hemingway, and Heller (though you won’t find a trace of humor in this sobering novel.) Krivak’s style is simple, direct, and sedate, but when violence appears, it comes in unforgettable detail:
"Miro was killed in a wave of shelling by the Russians, blown in half, this man who fought in their company said, but taking some time to die as his legless trunk of a body lay against the stump of a fallen tree and he clawed at the sky, pleading for someone to help him."