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Three Soldiers by John Dos Passos
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Three Soldiers (1921)

by John Dos Passos

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Dos Passos presents the varied backgrounds of his Three Soldiers and their early driving concerns: get to the front, get promoted to Corporal, and
survive the battles, then follows only John Andrews as he attempts to write music, then deserts the Army.

His personality evolves from anti-war and hatred of the Army to becoming a pretentious, tiresome, self-centered and selfish individual who cares
little about other people's feelings or his impact on their lives. Worse still, he proceeds to confound his friends and us with a sequence of stupid
decisions like traveling without required papers, dog tags, or a pass, all of which he has or can easily get. His choices lead to a really dumb conclusion. ( )
  m.belljackson | Nov 15, 2017 |
According to the blurb on the back of my edition, this, along with [b:The Enormous Room|144896|The Enormous Room|E.E. Cummings|https://d2arxad8u2l0g7.cloudfront.net/books/1172167333s/144896.jpg|285621] and [b:A Farewell to Arms|10799|A Farewell to Arms|Ernest Hemingway|https://d2arxad8u2l0g7.cloudfront.net/books/1313714836s/10799.jpg|4652599], the American novels, in other words, are the three great books of the First World War. No [a:Barbusse|26978|Henri Barbusse|https://d2arxad8u2l0g7.cloudfront.net/authors/1210181324p2/26978.jpg], no [a:Graves|3012988|Robert Graves|https://d2arxad8u2l0g7.cloudfront.net/authors/1251049332p2/3012988.jpg], no [a:Blunden|31139|Edmund Blunden|https://d2arxad8u2l0g7.cloudfront.net/authors/1335026460p2/31139.jpg], no [a:Jünger|281443|Ernst Jünger|https://d2arxad8u2l0g7.cloudfront.net/authors/1222085840p2/281443.jpg], not even [a:Remarque|4116|Erich Maria Remarque|https://d2arxad8u2l0g7.cloudfront.net/authors/1207351165p2/4116.jpg] can, apparently, hold a candle to Three Soldiers. Sadly, I think this blurb is dreadfully misguided.

Three Soldiers is ostensibly about three American soldiers in the A.E.F. in World War One. One, Fuselli, is a stock Italian American. The second, an Indiana farmboy named Chrisfield, is more interesting, but is left underdeveloped. That is because Dos Passos' focus is squarely on the third, Andrews. The book should really have been called One Soldier.

And, unfortunately, Andrews is a crashing bore. A well educated but restless young man from the East Coast who is attracted to socialism, Andrews is, in his own way, as stock a character as Fuselli. Unlike Fuselli, we are stuck with him for page after interminable page of him moping around Paris trying to decide what to do. We are, I think, supposed to sympathise with the plight of a free thinking man caught up in the military machine, a worthwhile point. But, time and again, Andrews dithers. When he does get the chance to exercise his free will he rarely takes it and instead gets depressed thinking about how awful it is to be him.

Dos Passos developed into a formidable writer and there are occasional flashes of interest here. Chrisfield is interesting when he appears, and so is a character named 'The Chink' who emerges towards the end to offer some prescient commentary on the looming spectre of Bolshevism. Sadly, though, we are stuck focused on a self-involved dullard. ( )
  JohnPhelan | Oct 4, 2016 |
My guess is that the impact of anti-war books, that is anti-war books from a number of years ago, has diminished because of the volumes and volumes of such books that have been published over the years. Therefore, the impact of such a book as Three Soldiers is probably not as profound as it was when first published, coming out not too long after the First World War and with the US still fervently believing that armed conflict was the solution to so many of its problems.

But today, after so many classics have been issued, this becomes an interesting story of soldiers fighting in WWI (actually, primarily focused on after the war is over but before being sent home), but not the profoundly moving anti-war story it was at one time.

Don’t get me wrong; still a good novel. Starting with training before the war, the three soldiers of the title are introduced. However, the story doesn’t exactly follow the three of them through their voyages, but rather visits them at different points in their travels – shifting focus between them at various times. Of interest, there is very little focus on the actual battles (as one might expect in an anti-war novel). Instead, after the training we see them as they prepare for battle. Then the majority of the novel is taken up with post-war France – primarily after the Armistice.

A different telling of a story than you might expect, which is why this novel is more interesting than it might have been (particularly, as I’ve already mentioned, with the fact that it is not as shockingly anti-war as it was in the past.) Interesting character studies, and a frank portrayal of those characters in a bad time. A book worth reading for all of these things, and in spite of what it used to be. ( )
  figre | Dec 16, 2011 |
a interesting war novel, very little about war itself a lot about bing in the army. lot to think about about choices we make thoughtful novel ( )
  michaelbartley | Apr 24, 2011 |
“Three Soldiers” by John Dos Passos is considered a literary classic published soon after World War I and encapsulating much of the disgruntled war fatigue many felt during and after the war. What I discovered was a rather piecemeal lethargic march through the lives of self-centered egocentric snobs not men who had been through the meat-grinder and had become rightly disenchanted and disgruntled. Mr. Passos did not enthrall or entice me and while the writing was quite descriptive the shear lack of character direction, which I do understand was purposeful and reminiscent of the era, encouraged me to put the novel down earlier than I would have liked. ( )
  BruderBane | Jun 13, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0141180277, Paperback)

Part of the generation that produced Ernest Hemingway and Ford Madox Ford, John Dos Passos wrote one of the most grimly honest portraits of World War I. Three Soldiers portrays the lives of a trio of army privates: Fuselli, an Italian American store clerk from San Francisco; Chrisfield, a farm boy from Indiana; and Andrews, a musically gifted Harvard graduate from New York. Hailed as a masterpiece on its original publication in 1921, Three Soldiers is a gripping exploration of fear and ambition, conformity and rebellion, desertion and violence, and the brutal and dehumanizing effects of a regimented war machine on ordinary soldiers.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:07 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

The first great American novel of World War I. They come to the army from different Americas: Fuselli, a San Francisco store clerk bucking for promotion; Chrisfield, a laid-back Indiana farm boy; and Andrews, a Harvard graduate and promising New York City musician. In basic training, they are told it doesn't matter where a man is born or what he wants to be. The best soldiers are automatons. To be a perfect cog within a vast military machine is all his country asks of him. In the muddy fields and trenches of France, they learn the terrible meaning of their sacrifice: Once lost, a soldier's humanity can never be regained. Based on John Dos Passos's firsthand knowledge of the Great War, Three Soldiers is a grim and utterly realistic portrait of army life. A modernist masterpiece and a brave statement of fact in a time of sentiment, it set a standard that Hemingway, Jones, Mailer, O'Brien, and every other chronicler of the American war experience has since tried to match.… (more)

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