THE SANDS OF VALOR by Geoffrey Wagner


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The North African campaign involved Germans, Englishmen, Italians, the French and, eventually, Americans. The story here takes place before the U.S. entered WWII. It's a long, sometimes turgidly detailed, novel about a British tank unit, especially about the courage and crack-ups of its officers. The war was not going all Rommel's way at the time, but his score was high and getting higher. The unit had been overlong in the field and was under-supplied and getting edgier all the time. The veteran officers' eccentricities were becoming exaggerated and the replacements had the debilitating feeling that the desert would be their mass grave. Theirs not to reason why...and all that. But they do. Endlessly. The style is the author omniscient as each officer in series feels his own mental pulse when the unit draws closer to its final gallantry in a signally unchivalrous war. The atmosphere, the discipline and the futility build gradually, perhaps too gradually, for an American audience and further hindrances are the abrupt British-isms of the dialogue, which swing from pukka sahib to Cockney. It's a close examination of types, which do take on more flesh in this treatment--the bully, the effete lieutenant, the old army officer-gentleman, and the soldier philosopher. All are given a background and a present that make them more than the typical war novel furniture. The numberless veterans of American units that fought in North Africa are the logical readership.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1967
Publisher: Knopf