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A Soldier of the Great War

Cover of A Soldier of the Great War

A Soldier of the Great War

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For Alessandro Giullani, the young son of a prosperous Roman Lawyer, golden trees shimmer in the sun beneath a sky of perfect blue. At night the moon is amber and the city of Rome seethes with light. He races horses across the country to the sea, and in the Alps he practices the precise and sublime art of mountain climbing. At the ancient university in Bologna he is a student of painting and the science of beauty. And he falls in love. His is a world of adventure and dreams, of music, storm, and the spirit. Then the Great War intervenes.

Half a century later, in August of 1964, Alessandro, a white-haired professor, still tall and proud, finds himself unexpectedly on the road with an illiterate young factory worker. As they walk toward Monte Prato, a village seventy kilometers distant, the old man tells the story of his life. How he became a soldier. A hero. A prisoner. A deserter. A wanderer in the hell that claimed Europe. And how he tragically lost one family and gained another.

The boy is dazzled by the action and envious of the richness and color of the story, and realizes that the old man's magnificent tale of love and war is more than a tale: it is the recapitulation of his life, his reckoning with mortality, and above all, a love song for his family.

For Alessandro Giullani, the young son of a prosperous Roman Lawyer, golden trees shimmer in the sun beneath a sky of perfect blue. At night the moon is amber and the city of Rome seethes with light. He races horses across the country to the sea, and in the Alps he practices the precise and sublime art of mountain climbing. At the ancient university in Bologna he is a student of painting and the science of beauty. And he falls in love. His is a world of adventure and dreams, of music, storm, and the spirit. Then the Great War intervenes.

Half a century later, in August of 1964, Alessandro, a white-haired professor, still tall and proud, finds himself unexpectedly on the road with an illiterate young factory worker. As they walk toward Monte Prato, a village seventy kilometers distant, the old man tells the story of his life. How he became a soldier. A hero. A prisoner. A deserter. A wanderer in the hell that claimed Europe. And how he tragically lost one family and gained another.

The boy is dazzled by the action and envious of the richness and color of the story, and realizes that the old man's magnificent tale of love and war is more than a tale: it is the recapitulation of his life, his reckoning with mortality, and above all, a love song for his family.

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  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 4, 1992
    Energetic prose, poetic images of great intensity and an antic imagination combine in this gripping moral fable narrated by a septuagenarian irrevocably altered by WW I. This BOMC main selection was on PW 's hardcover bestseller list for eight weeks.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 6, 1991
    With energetic, often lyrical prose capable of poetic images of great intensity, coupled with an antic imagination unleashed in scenes of high adventure and bizarre and droll events, Helprin's ( Winter's Tale ) dramatic, sweeping narrative focuses on one man's experiences during a turbulent period of history. Septuagenarian Alessandro Giuliani, scion of a cultured Roman family, looks back on a life whose direction was irrevocably altered and thereafter shadowed by WW I. Idealistic Alessandro first sees action in the Tyrol (giving Helprin the opportunity to display his knowledge of mountain climbing), is part of a ``phantom'' unit sent to Sicily to capture deserters, becomes a deserter himself and later a prisoner sentenced to death--in short, undergoes experiences that encapsulate war's many horrors, ironies and tragedies. As counterpoint to brutal battle scenes, there is dark comedy in the character of the demented dwarf Orfeo Quatta, who pursues his awesome responsibilities at the Ministry of War with capricious maniawhy passive voice? doesn't dwarf himself pursue these responsibilities? . Helprin uses Giorgioni's painting La Tempesta to convey the novel's message: that women, with the promise of love and new life, are civilization's salvation in the aftermath of war. The author himself again demonstrates his ability to create vivid settings: ``as vivid as graphic representations''? magnificent landscapes teeming with activity and colored by extremes of weather, illuminated with the clarity of a classical painting . While the plot early on sometimes seems padded and digressive, the reader will soon find Alessandro's story a gripping, poignant and universally relevant moral fable. 125,000 first printing; $100,000 ad/promo; BOMC main selection; paperback rights to Avon; author tour.

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    Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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A Soldier of the Great War
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Mark Helprin
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