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Malaparte, Berto, and the early Rossellini films recorded the few significant dramas about the Italian phase of the last war. The three short novels in The Lost Legions, all published in Italy during the Fifties, are later examples of the genre. Anyone who recalls the vividness of Paisan or the brutality of The Skin, should find the trio here far less immediate, more reflective and restrained. In a sense, they are all antiwar elegies, group portraits without dominant characters or bold incidents. Each covers a different battle station: The Army in Love is set in Greece, The Deserts of Libya deals with North Africa, and The Sergeant in the Snow focuses on Italy's little known participation in the disastrous Russian campaign. A sort of documentary method is common to all three; though the Russian story is narrated in the first person, it conforms to the camera eye presentation of its neighbors. The first two of these novels are really a series of snapshots, sometimes showing quite extraordinary glimpses of the average soldier's encounter with an alien landscape, random lusts, and military squalor; while the last, the truest and most painful, is a highly detailed chronicle of the front lines. The quality of the writing is shrewdly observant and generally first rate; the subject, alas, has seen better days.

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 1967
Publisher: Knopf