Based on real-life events, Pressfield’s moving novel concerns the daring British and Commonwealth soldiers who challenged German General Erwin Rommel’s desert forces.
The story is narrated by R. Lawrence “Chap” Chapman, a minor player in the dramatic African action of World War II. As a very young British officer, barely out of his teens, the Oxford-educated Chapman was assigned to the Long Range Desert Group (LDRG), a glamorous and much sought-after posting in an outfit prizing resourcefulness and improvisation, qualities essential to surviving LDRG’s ridiculously dangerous assignments. Rommel’s forces in 1942 dominated Northern Africa west of Egypt. The brilliant general had the willing participation of troops, who were in awe both of his tactics and of his almost knightly approach to warfare. His success in Africa was a major obstacle to the Allied Forces who saw the coastline there as the first step to an invasion of Southern Europe. Even more dangerous, were he to take Egypt from the Brits, he would hand the Arabian oil fields to the fuel-starved Axis armies. To save Egypt, the oil fields and prevent an invasion, the Brits, under future Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, send the units of the LDRG, including the very green Chapman, on a wild mission to kill Rommel and, with him, the German esprit de guerre. The story Pressfield (The Afghan Campaign, 2007, etc.) tells is so rich in details that it is difficult to read without good maps at the elbow, and, given the conceit of a modest man telling the whopping story, it is sometimes slow going. But it’s absolutely worth sticking with for the high-definition picture of a low tech (trucks get repaired in the middle of the dunes) but vicious war, and for the breathtaking gallantry of unpretentious young men and General Rommel. There is, as a lagniappe thrown in at the end, one of the best apologies ever written on behalf of novels as a necessary art form.
Brilliant, but not for the Tom Clancy set.