Saturday, March 29, 2014

Finished Reading A Soldier of the Great War Yesterday

One of Bird Dog's great pearls of wisdom, long ago (so long, I've no interest in searching for a link), suggested that bloggers need to frequently unplug from the Internet and enjoy the real beauties of life, which are of course offline.

I don't take that advice enough, despite telling myself I should on a daily basis. But yesterday, except for a couple of overnight posts and one mid-day update, I spent the whole day reading, making love to my wife, and enjoying the evening with my youngest son.

I finally finished Mark Helprin's epic novel of World War I, A Soldier of the Great War, which I started last year, in May or June. I read the book on and off again, and of course interspersed reading fiction with all the other stuff I'm normally reading, non-fiction books, and especially political science and policy journals. And that's to say nothing of my daily newspaper reading, especially online, and blogging.

But Helprin's an amazing writer. I indeed took to this book from the opening pages. Occasionally you start a new book and it just doesn't grab you. I've put a few novels back down over the last couple of years because they just didn't do it for me. But I knew I liked A Soldier of the Great War from the opening pages. And then, this last few weeks, when I was down to the last few hundred pages of the book, I just buckled down to finish it. In the old days, when I was an undergraduate especially, I used to read a lot of fiction. I didn't do a whole lot else. I didn't watch as much television. I worked a lot, attended my college classes, went to the gym and hung out with my younger sister (not to mention my mom). Sometimes I would read a novel in just a few days. I can remember reading massive tomes like War and Peace back in the day, and The Fountainhead. With the exception of my schoolwork, there weren't as many distractions as we have today, especially with the Internet and social media. Plus, I have a family nowadays, so that takes a lot of time, lol.

In any case, be sure to read this wonderful novel. Mark Helprin's a conservative who occasionally posts op-eds to the Wall Street Journal (or at least he used to). Here's the book blurb at Amazon:

Mark Helprin photo photo9_zpse937d300.jpg
Alessandro Giuliani, the young son of a prosperous Roman lawyer, enjoys an idyllic life full of privilege: he races horses across the country to the sea, he climbs mountains in the Alps, and, while a student of painting at the ancient university in Bologna, he falls in love. Then the Great War intervenes. Half a century later, in August of 1964, Alessandro, a white-haired professor, tall and proud, meets an illiterate young factory worker on the road. As they walk toward Monte Prato, a village seventy kilometers away, the old man—a soldier and a hero who became a prisoner and then a deserter, wandering in the hell that claimed Europe—tells him how he tragically lost one family and gained another. The boy, envying the richness and drama of Alessandro's experiences, realizes that this magnificent tale is not merely a story: it's a recapitulation of his life, his reckoning with mortality, and above all, a love song for his family.