An American combat doctor’s memories of war, as filtered through his novelist daughter (The Art of Absence, 2011, etc.).
From an Italian immigrant family, Army Cpt. Bart Passanante found himself “aimed in the opposite direction” of his parents’ passage earlier in the century, bound as a military doctor to the war theaters of Africa, Italy, and eventually France and Germany. Armed with a trove of letters—more than 1,365 pages—from Bart to her mother, Bertie, written “almost daily in an attempt to span the jagged cleft the war had sliced into their marriage,” the latter-day Passanante explores her father’s recollection of events and retraces his steps on some parts of the journey (“When I first read Bart’s description of his days in the boxcar to Algeria, I had no doubts that I, too, wanted to travel there”). The author takes clear pleasure in her father’s mastery of English, overcoming the linguistic gulf by which immigrants are easily sorted into the category of “Other,” and she has a good eye for the telling detail and for when to quote directly and when to paraphrase. Her father tends to understatement, but sometimes he lets slip just how dangerous his situation is, as when he is preparing to board the landing craft for the invasion of France on D-Day: “Somehow, I’ve become fatalistic about the whole thing,” he writes. “I’m not as scared as I thought I was going to be.” Though the daughter’s commentary is less immediate, there are some fine moments, too, such as her meeting a Frenchwoman who, wounded in crossfire, may have been treated by Dr. Passanante decades earlier. As she writes after their tender encounter, “in the way that I missed my father in the months before he died…when his mind had already been spirited away by Alzheimer’s disease, I missed her already.”
Well written, though without the broader appeal of, say, Rick Atkinson or Richard Overy; a minor but interesting take on a major conflict.