A realistic, and unrelieved, novel of war follows two years in the life of 18 year old Marco Laudato, who has given up seminary training for -- he knows not what. He breaks away from his village in south Italy, hitchhikes to Venice and there enlists and from then on he serves his fatherland's demands for blood and hatred. He deserts from a German battery, is taken from jail to a headquarters platoon of replacements and there is part of the mopping up of rebel partisans who are killed like dogs. Sole survivor of an abortive sortie, he is wounded and becomes a hero; he is hospitalized and falls in love with his nurse, Anna, an older woman, who follows him when he is sent to the mountains, after his recovery, on patrol. Jealousy, Anna's departure after the season of love, and the week's attempts to take an enemy emplacement bring him the blind intoxication of battle, and defeat does not mean surrender until they learn the war is over, Mussolini dead and all Fascists prisoners of war. Marco escapes, makes his way home -- and at first revolts but then makes up his mind to adjust. A joyless, melancholy first person pilgrimage, the concern with the ""butchery of mothers' sons"" underlines an anti-war message.