An admirable if challenging reworking of the overworked themes of war-hero tales.


A war hero delivers a final, mournful series of remembrances just as his memories begin to scatter.

The title of this striking and slippery late novel by Tabucchi (Time Ages in a Hurry, 2015, etc.) gives away the ending, but even so the somber opening pages leave little doubt to the story’s trajectory. Tristano is at the end of his life, one leg ravaged with gangrene, and he’s summoned a writer who’s reimagined his life in a novel to set the record straight. The novel depicted Tristano’s moment of heroism during World War II—as an Italian soldier stationed in Greece, he killed a Nazi soldier who murdered an innocent woman and child, then hid in the mountains with Greek partisans. Tabucchi has his protagonist struggle to recall his story, thinking of the women he loved, questioning his heroism, and bemoaning the infirmity of the truth. “Life isn’t arranged in alphabetical order,” he laments, and to echo that point, Tabucchi’s tale is digressive and sometimes frustratingly abstract. But if the overall narrative is splintered, Tristano’s philosophizing is oak-solid, engaging, and often black-humored. He riffs often on the flexibility of history and who gets to write it, the cruelty of war and the atomic bomb, selective memory, mental illness, and betrayal. “At times it’s so hard to tell the difference between cruelty and justice…killing…or murdering,” he intones as he shades toward a late confession. The incompleteness of the story, its distance from objective truth, is part of Tabucchi’s narrative strategy, prompting the reader to consider what kind of information we need to assign somebody the title of hero. Tristano is a great admirer of Borges, and this book evokes his wordplay as well as his eagerness to manipulate time and storytelling like taffy.

An admirable if challenging reworking of the overworked themes of war-hero tales.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-914671-24-4

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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This is good Hemingway. It has some of the tenderness of A Farewell to Arms and some of its amazing power to make one feel inside the picture of a nation at war, of the people experiencing war shorn of its glamor, of the emotions that the effects of war — rather than war itself — arouse. But in style and tempo and impact, there is greater resemblance to The Sun Also Rises. Implicit in the characters and the story is the whole tragic lesson of Spain's Civil War, proving ground for today's holocaust, and carrying in its small compass, the contradictions, the human frailties, the heroism and idealism and shortcomings. In retrospect the thread of the story itself is slight. Three days, during which time a young American, a professor who has taken his Sabbatical year from the University of Montana to play his part in the struggle for Loyalist Spain and democracy. He is sent to a guerilla camp of partisans within the Fascist lines to blow up a strategic bridge. His is a complex problem in humanity, a group of undisciplined, unorganized natives, emotionally geared to go their own way, while he has a job that demands unreasoning, unwavering obedience. He falls in love with a lovely refugee girl, escaping the terrors of a fascist imprisonment, and their romance is sharply etched against a gruesome background. It is a searing book; Hemingway has done more to dramatize the Spanish War than any amount of abstract declamation. Yet he has done it through revealing the pettinesses, the indignities, the jealousies, the cruelties on both sides, never glorifying simply presenting starkly the belief in the principles for which these people fought a hopeless war, to give the rest of the world an interval to prepare. There is something of the implacable logic of Verdun in the telling. It's not a book for the thin-skinned; it has more than its fill of obscenities and the style is clipped and almost too elliptical for clarity at times. But it is a book that repays one for bleak moments of unpleasantness.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1940

ISBN: 0684803356

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1940

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