BEFORE THEIR TIME by Robert Kotlowitz


A Memoir
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 Novelist Kotlowitz acts as his fallen buddies' unofficial company historian of their combat duty in WW II, from army basic training to a precipitous, disastrous encounter with the enemy. More than 50 years after WW II, with over half its veterans now dead, Kotlowitz (His Master's Voice, 1992, etc.) recounts his own experiences, in part to find ``a definitive end to the accumulated weight of sadness and nostalgia.'' With this simple goal, his straightforward prose captures both the mundane and the horrific features of a soldier's life, as well as his own teenager's naãvetÇ. After getting bucked out of a training program in order to supply his division with live bodies after D-day, Kotlowitz is thrown into an eclectic mix of soldiers in the so-called ``Yankee Division.'' His commanding officer is a textbook-trained OCS graduate and former university football tackle from Ohio, his squad leader a generally reliable soldier with a tendency to go AWOL under pressure, and his buddies a melting-pot mix of draftees. Infantry life quickly sorts them into a soldiers' hierarchy, right down to the squad's sad sack, but Kotlowitz gives each man his balanced due. After an uneventful delay awaiting deployment orders in France, he and his buddies find themselves on the front, dug in a few hundred yards from the well-prepared Germans, in the fall of 1944. When they are finally sent forward, the assault is so disastrous that he survives only by ``playing the living corpse'' among his platoon, one of just three survivors. After subjecting him to grilling by the division's historian and its psychiatrist, the army, ironically, sends him behind lines to recuperate by guarding a warehouse of duffel bags, some of which belonged to his fallen buddies. An unsentimental, honest testament to the individual experience of war--the kind that history overlooks.

Pub Date: Feb. 3rd, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-44789-X
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1996