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Peace by Richard Bausch
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Peace (2008)

by Richard Bausch

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This was a wonderful yet disturbing, spare little novel (maybe technically a novella) set in the waning days of WWII as three soldiers trudge up a Northern Italian mountain, in the rain and snow, to get information about any fleeting German forces. As with the ways of war, there is confusion and nothing is quite what it seems to be. Before they set off on the mission, the soldiers witness what may be the murder of an Italian or German civilian (prostitute) by their Sergeant. Like with life, it happened so fast, all they each have is fleeting images and what might be. So on their journey, they struggle with what they witnessed, whether to report it and how it fits in with their mission. The soldiers really don't care for each other and are suffering in their own ways, yet they must do this mission together. This is a beautifully written book, despite (or because of?) the war's last futile days. I have read many, many books about WWII and from an intimate, soldier-story level, this is one of the best. It is one of those that sticks with you. Recommended. I also want to seek out some of Bausch's other works as he is a great writer. ( )
  CarolynSchroeder | Jul 27, 2012 |
Peace is a terrific novella, one of those books that plunges you into - not just its location, but its totality. Bausch has written one of the best "war novels" I've read in a long time, sidestepping many of the cliches of the genre, whilst making its truths feel fresh, and that they matter, and worth reading again.

Corporal Robert Marson has been asked to perform reconnaissance on a hill covering the German retreat in Italy. He and his companions, the acerbic Private Joyner and tortured Private Asch, are disturbed by the murder of a hapless civilian earlier in the day, and bitterly cold. Led by an old man of dubious loyalties, soaked by icy rain, injured, and terrified of the German troops that may be hiding behind each slope, by time morning arrives, the hill will become a mountain.

The immediacy of Peace is one of its most impressive aspects. The mountainous Italian countryside, the rich loamy mud, the needle-like rain; it's so tactile you can practically smell it. These quotidian concerns are expertly juxtaposed by the fears, hopes, and relationships between the soldiers. The long night is interleaved by Marson's flashbacks to his landing at Palermo and what's he's left behind. These memories contrast sharply with their immediate concerns, which scarcely extend beyond putting one foot in front of the other.

Marson himself is an entirely believable and rounded character. Uncomfortable with what he's doing, homesick, struggling to make sense of the banality of war (both as a totality and its specificity on the hill), and trying to rein in his bickering privates. The strength of Bausch's characterisation is vital to Peace because of its intimacy and short time frame, and he handles it magnificently. Marson's doubts and certainties are shared with the reader and you can feel his emotions as viscerally as the driving rain.

There is a lyricism to Peace, but it's not rhapsodic or florid. Rather, it comes through the banality, and the dignity these characters have through their - and our - common humanity. Their thoughts are only as unique as all our thoughts are; Baush's skill in showing the greatness of that wellspring in just 165 pages is formidable, and the result is a singular, touching work. Great stuff. ( )
  patrickgarson | Oct 24, 2011 |
There really isn't an easy task to be charged with when you're a soldier in enemy territory during World War II, and reconaisance is just as horrible as the rest of them. It doesn't make it any easier when you just watched two of your companions get killed, shot a man yourself, and witnessed your commander kill an innocent woman.

Regardless, Marson is given one simple order. Climb a hill and give a report on what he can see. Like anything in war, the hill turns into a mountain, and he is left not only surmounting a physical mountain but an emotional one as well.

Generally I love these sort of essentially-plotless, character-oriented books, and ones dealing with the psychology turmoil of war are all the better in my book. Peace, however, just didn't do much for me. It's not in any way bad, and I can't think of many negative things to say about it, it just didn't have the emotional impact of many other books of this style have had. It's good, but there are better. ( )
  Ape | May 7, 2011 |
It's a trick. This book is by no means a book about Peace. It is a book about war. It's not like there is some inner peace found at war or that peace is the result it is just a sad book about war. It is very descriptive and violent. It's just all in all a bit depressing. If you like books about war then you will probably love it, but I definitely did not love it. ( )
  weeksj10 | Feb 27, 2011 |
In Italy in 1944 it’s cold and terribly wet and a small American patrol come across a cart of hay and their commanding officer orders that it is overturned so it can be searched for contraband. As two of the men set about flipping it over a German officer who has been hiding in the hay shoots them dead and is quickly dispatched by the carbine of Corporal Marson. A woman who had been hiding in the hay with the German screams uncontrollably and in a moment of cool madness the patrol’s commander, Glick, shoots her dead.

The men are horrified but do and say nothing. When they meet up with a tank battalion Glick reports that the woman was killed in the crossfire and the men keep quiet but disgusted.

The patrol moves off again. The Germans are retreating and their job is to scout out the line of retreat; so when they come upon an old Italian man, Corporal Marson, Asch and Joyner are sent with the man as a guide to climb a mountain to see what they can see of the retreat. The men battle against the elements of the mountainous Italian winter in a seemingly endless search on an almost pointless mission.

Corporal Marson has limited command of the two men who have been his friends from the beginning and were his equals throughout most of the war so far and only reluctantly follow his orders after much bickering (To be fair the order he gives the most is “Shut up”). He’s stuck in the middle of these two and all of them cannot escape the shadow of the murder they’ve witnessed. Asch is a philosophical character who’s haunted by a hellish scene he witnessed in Africa and cannot sleep without conjuring up the image of: “a burning tank, the men in it, and the heat of the desert, the smell rising in the waves of black smoke and flames”. Marson avoids conversation with him for fear of hearing him recant this dream again yet Asch is the most moral character in the book. It is his gut reaction to report Glick’s murder as soon as they get back to the main unit and he fears that the trials they are undergoing as they climb the mountain are God’s punishment for what they’ve done. Joyner claims no such belief. To Joyner the woman who was murdered was with a German and was liable for her own death as a result nevertheless his constant nervous scratching implies that perhaps Joyner is merely trying to justify to himself what he already knows is wrong. Joyner the bigot and Asch the Jew bicker and argue and Marson finds himself in the middle tending to the old Italian who they're not sure they can trust and ensuring that they carry out their duty.

Bausch doesn’t layer language on but keeps his prose quite plain but very effective. The miserable cold, wet weather starts to plague the reader as much as the characters and his characters are so incredibly human. Marson reflects on his life as he climbs and so some small history of the other two soldiers is revealed. Of course they’re all young men plucked from normal society and thrown into the war, that’s all stuff we’ve heard before but what Bausch creates is a medley of paradoxes and conflicted characters that shows war to be merely killing, killing that is “just gonna go on for ever or until they find some way to kill everybody”. Asch’s grandfather was a German Jew who fought in the First World War for the Germans and Asch wonders what his grandfather would think of him and think of Germany now. Marson’s own father was German. They are fighting for a country that they have no real heritage in yet against a country that wishes to annihilate them despite the fact it’s were their ancestor’s came from. Joyner who has no apparent German ancestry has the most in common with the Nazis you would think given his anti-Jewish racism. The Italian in their midst is one from a nation that has changed sides during the war and they’re not sure whether they can trust him and of course how much can they trust each other. Yet here they all are fighting together in yet another war. Asch points out that in between the years 1865- 1910 there were only 11 years of peace time. These men, however, are not killing machines as they listen to the executions of the Jews in the village beneath them they all break out into their own mantras of hope, even Joyner the bigot.
It’s an engaging and very entertaining read. At 171 pages with 24 chapters it’s very quickly devoured. It’s not 100% original we’ve all seen WWII fiction were a bunch of seemingly very different men come together but Peace manages to create an overall piece that’s certainly not clichéd. I haven’t read any thing by Richard Bausch before but this a book that has left me wanting more and I would recommend it highly.

~~Most unexpected line~~

“ In the dimness, Marson saw the uncircumcised length of it.”

~~The cover~~

The cover makes no sense. It has a boy with some jerry cans on his back climbing up a dusty road. This film has no boy lugging jerry cans about in it and it’s very emphatic that it either never stops raining or snowing so they are certainly no dusty roads.

~~Shelve, Burn, Charitise~~

It shall be shelved until the ice age when I will burn it in order to survive.

~~Financialistics~~

In a fit of madness I paid £7.99 for this and I believe that’s way over priced (as are all books). I read it in two short sittings that came to about maybe an hour and fifteen minutes. So £8 for 75 minutes entertainment! No wonder people just watch TV and don’t read.

~~Written by Phelim McC. You wouldn't download a car so don't steal my review~~ ( )
  FeidhlimM | Feb 1, 2011 |
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Epigraph
Lo, the moon ascending,
up from the east the silvery round moon,
Beautiful...

And my heart, O my soldiers, my veterans,
My heart gives you love.

-Walt Whitman,
"Dirge for Two Veterans," Drum Taps
Dedication
With deepest gratitude, love, and admiration to George Garrett,
who for almost twenty years kept after me to write this story.
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Information from the French Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to the English one.
They went on anyway, putting one foot in front of the other, holding their carbines barrel down to keep the water out, trying, in their misery and confusion-and their exhaustion-to remain watchful.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307268330, Hardcover)

From the prize-winning novelist and world-renowned short story writer, recipient of the PEN/Malamud Award and the Academy Award from the Academy of Arts and Letters, a powerful novel about war, trust, and salvation that begs to be read in a single sitting.

Italy, near Cassino. The terrible winter of 1944. A dismal icy rain, continuing unabated for days. Guided by a seventy-year-old Italian man in rope-soled shoes, three American soldiers are sent on a reconnaissance mission up the side of a steep hill that they discover, before very long, to be a mountain. And the old man’s indeterminate loyalties only add to the terror and confusion that engulf them on that mountain, where they are confronted with the horror of their own time—and then set upon by a sniper.

Taut and propulsive—with its spare language, its punishing landscape, and the keenly drawn portraits of the three young soldiers at its center—Peace is a feat of economy, compression, and imagination, a brutal and unmistakably contemporary meditation on the corrosiveness of violence, the human cost of war, and the redemptive power of mercy.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:36:18 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"Italy, near Cassino. The terrible winter of 1944. A dismal icy rain, continuing unabated for days. Guided by a seventy-year-old Italian man in rope-soled shoes, three American soldiers are sent on a reconnaissance mission up the side of a steep hill that they discover, before very long, to be a mountain. And the old man's indeterminate loyalties only add to the terror and confusion that engulf them on that mountain, where they are confronted with the horror of their own time - and then set upon by a sniper." "Taut and propulsive - with its spare language, its punishing landscape, and the keenly drawn portraits of the three young soldiers at its center - Peace is a feat of economy, compression, and imagination, a brutal and unmistakably contemporary meditation on the corrosiveness of violence, the human cost of war, and the redemptive power of mercy."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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