I'm currently reading it, crying for a bit, then reading some more. Where else would you find a novel about World War I primarily devoted to discussing theology, philosophy and aesthetics? Nowhere. It's captivating. The discussions that take place in the book are worth reading aloud to friends over a few glasses of wine. The descriptions in the book, just like in Winter's Tale, are masterful. The description of how different characters in the story resign themselves to the fact that, once they get to the trenches, they only have, at best, a couple more weeks to live - leave me a little dumbfounded. When I was in Iraq, my friends and I all had to reconcile ourselves to the fact that we had just a chance of not making it back - and that was hard enough. Imagining what it would be like to be stuck in World War I is difficult - but Helprin brings you there.
I also strongly identify with how Helprin describes, from the character Alessandro's point of view, how soul-numbing war and military life can be. If you don't have the right temperament for it (and I never did) it can feel like a crushing weight on your shoulders. The ability just to think and reflect is discouraged in the military (whether on purpose or just by the grueling routine). You would think the time would be there in abundance, but it's strangely not. The fact that this story is about a guy who insists upon it anyway is making it a book after my own heart.
Edited by J.A.A. Purves, 13 March 2014 - 01:34 PM.