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This is one of the most beautifully written, most vivid and horrific accounts of war I've read/listened to in a long time. It's absolutely amazing.
It was so amazing in fact, that I Googled it: and tho' I found that there were a few inaccuracies, it is true, it was lived. Guy Sajer himself says that it's not meant to be a strategic/chronological account but is instead meant as an emotional rendering of what he experienced.
And emotional it is. It starts with him as an optimistic young soldier fighting for the Germans even tho' he's half French (from what I Googled, it is suggested that he did it because he felt the Germans were Europe's best hope to save countries from Bolshevism), goes through testing as a member of an auxiliary unit, and then the greatest part of it is flat-out war and chaos.
There is smoke, fire, death all around him. Struggling innocents, struggling participants. I'd just finished listening to "Enemy at the Gates", about Stalingrad, and here in "The Forgotten Soldier" there was a greater accounting of it at the costs of Germany. But there is so much more: more battles, more to be won and lost, and so much hunger and privation.
I have never suffered so much alongside another person as I did with this book, it's so humane.
It's not just warfare that's soooo vividly portrayed; this is just a well, well-written book. Nature, comradeship, fear are written elegantly, with brilliant prose, and Derek Perkins delivers it flawlessly, humanely.
This is a credit well-spent, 21 1/2 hours I wouldn't trade for the world.
66 of 71 people found this review helpful
Guy Sajer's The Forgotten Soldier is a memoir of his experiences as a German Landser caught in the maelstrom of the Eastern Front between 1942 and 1945. I have read this book several times and now I have listened to Derick Perkins' narration and I am as blown away as I was when I first read it.
I cannot even attempt to try to say "...it felt like I was right there handing Sajer another box of machine gun ammunition...." because that would just be a lie. I, dear reader of this review, have spent exactly 0 seconds in anything even resembling a foxhole under fire and the next time I face 6000+ "Urrah!" screaming Soviet infantry charging my positions will be the first time. In other words, I am an avid reader of military history, plain and simple.
This memoir is a genuine reflection of how one man tried to cope i.e. stay alive, during the middle and later stages of largest conflict we humans have ever concocted. It has been said that if you separated the WWII Eastern Front from 1941-1945 from the larger conflict from 1939-1945, the Eastern Front theatre would by itself be the largest military conflict in the history of mankind. Now, I can go on and back this up and type in total casualty figures, but even today the numbers of Soviet solders KIA in WWII is still but a "guesstimate" with high teen 8 digit numbers as a conservative amount. But what is the point?
The Forgotten Soldier must be read by anyone, be they combat veteran or armchair general, who respects the sacrifice that soldiers throughout our common history have made not only for for some conception of "the Fatherland" or "the glory of....(insert whichever kingdom, empire, petty successor state hopping off some rickety polity inexorably fragmenting into oblivion, or the Good Ole Stars and Stripes)" Suffering has a universal quality all its own.
Listen to this book. You will hear 21+ hours of what is probably the greatest memoir ever written not just of WWII but of any conflict anywhere and at any time. Guy Sajer was not in the forefront of some Panzer Division manning the main gun of some Pzkpw Mark III storming across the rolling plains of the Ukraine in June 1941 in the vanguard of Operation Barbarossa. He was part of the successor wave of reinforcement levies sent East to shore up an already sagging German front line that was overextended, undermanned and dangerously exposed to Soviet counterattack.
If lucky can find its place somewhere in Guy Sajer's experience, it might be that he found himself quite unexpectedly being scooped up by the best led and equipped Wehrmacht armored division in the war - the Grossdeutschland Division - and being teamed with "the Veteran" as a two-man machine gun team. I tell you, I cannot think of anyone I know or have read about whom I would prefer to have standing next to me in any kind of situation that has gone pear shaped and lethal than "the veteran". To say he was "a guardian angel" type person sent by some benevolent diety to keep Guy Sajer from getting his ass shot off is not for me to say. But Guy Sajer better have at least proverbially bought that stud as many beers as he wanted to pay back the hard headed and hard earned leadership "the Veteran" exercised in many extremely lethal combat situations. That stud was the definition of "Alte Hasse" in every way I can think of.
Finally, I must mention that Mr. Perkins narrated this book like the pro he is. The Forgotten Soldier has renewed my love for audiobooks. This one is a must purchase!
26 of 30 people found this review helpful