A Soldier of the Great War
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A Soldier of the Great War

4.37 of 5 stars 4.37  ·  rating details  ·  3,983 ratings  ·  486 reviews
From acclaimed novelist Mark Helprin, a lush, literary epic about love, beauty, and the world at war

Alessandro Giuliani, the young son of a prosperous Roman lawyer, enjoys an idyllic life full of privilege: he races horses across the country to the sea, he climbs mountains in the Alps, and, while a student of painting at the ancient university in Bologna, he falls in love....more
Paperback, 860 pages
Published June 1st 2005 by Mariner Books (first published May 6th 1991)
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David Johnson
Jun 10, 2010 David Johnson rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to David by: Dustin
“My father wanted me to join him in the practice of law, but I saw how greatly he suffered the requirement of being clever. It separated him from his soul, and it didn’t get him anything other than a living.”

I suppose it is always true that we gain from books what we can relate to. The themes that dominate our daily lives in our teens, our 20’s, 30’s, and so forth vary radically. These themes are filters over what we read and absorb, creating a different experience for us each time we read. So i...more
Matt
I finished this novel with a newborn baby (my own, if you’re wondering) on my chest. The book and the baby were (literally) roughly the same size, so turning the pages without waking the infant was a challenge. Also challenging was trying to read after having been awake for three straight days. The old saying is definitely true: it’s tough to read while suffering audible and visual hallucinations. (At one point, the heat duct in my room starting lecturing me on the European Monetary Union; that...more
Steve
When we first meet Alessandro, the soldier from the title, he’s an elderly but still vital man who takes a principled stand against a streetcar driver who refused to stop for a would-be rider giving chase. Alessandro ends up getting off as a kind of protest and faces a distant journey on foot with the impressionable young man who’d been left behind. Along the way, Alessandro tells him (and us) quite a story. It’s filled with events and perspectives prior to the war that hint at the kind of soldi...more
Lewis Weinstein
A Soldier of the Great War is a compelling read and I was left with a marvelous portrait of a thoughtful man whose life has been horribly distorted and, despite his heroism and accomplishments, and his own longevity, largely wasted by the experience of meaningless war. This is mankind's history ... over and over again, from time immemorial to the present day.

Helprin's writing technique (at least in this book and Refiner's Fire, which I read a year or so ago) is to tell a sequence of what seem t...more
Chrissie
Whatever I could possibly say cannot do justice to this book. How Helprin uses language is magnificent - the dialogue, the thoughts he evokes, the humor, the beauty he paints for the reader. I have to give this book five stars, although I have only read half. Well now I have completed the book and this makes me so sad - I don't want it to end.

Zac
Honestly this is the greatest book ever written! It's fact, not opinion, greatest book ever! I am currently reading it for the 3rd time. The way Alessandro Giuliani, the protagonist, views the world is truly beautiful and has become my credo (if I can be so arrogant). Mark Helprin is a gifted, profound, illustrative, comical, writer, and I would recommend this book to any reader. One thing I should mention is that I have heard that the first eighty pages are slow and hard reading. I completely d...more
switterbug (Betsey)
A friend recommended this epic book to me despite knowing I wasn't fond of Helprin's novels. Well, he certainly perceived my taste fittingly, and I am forever indebted to him for persuading me to read this beautiful, evocative, deeply resonating story of a soldier-scholar living through WW I.

This is not like any other war novel I have read, and I've read a number of them. Although you are taken inside the reality of war--in the muddy trenches, in the grasp of grenades, marching with battalions,...more
Lori (Hellian)
It's taking me a long time to read this. Not because it's bad. Just the opposite. The writing is so exquisite that my heart is breaking over and over again and I realize I'm not making the time to read. Yet I'm drawn back every day, and then wonder why I'm avoiding it. Against the backdrop of the brutality and idiocy of war, the beauty of life and the spirit are awesome, awesome as in the mysterious majesty that raises us to ecstasy.

100 more pages and I don't want it to end.

Breathtaking. My god...more
Raeden Zen
A Poetic Journey During War and Peace

“Alessandro grieved. His punishment was that nothing in the world could touch him. His punishment was that God had put him into battle and preserved him from its dangers.”

In summer 1964, after the operator of a streetcar denies a fare to a young boy, an elder man, Alessandro Guiliani, walks off in protest. Alessandro joins the boy, and in their journey from Rome to a far away village, he tells the boy the story of his life; from his early days living as the s...more
Mark Linehan
This book puts Erich Maria Remarque to shame. Beautiful prose highlights a forgotten front of a forgotten war as a student of aesthetics becomes a soldier of World War I in the Italian army. The characters brought to life by Mark Helprin are perfectly tragic in their hope and optimism. As you read, you desperately try to connect yourself to Alessandro, but as you press on, you come to realize that we are all Nicolo, his companion on the road away from Rome in 1964, ignorant and selfish, thinking...more
deLille
I tend to race through books, which was a huge mistake with this one. A Soldier of the Great War needs to be read slowly with each description and each passage savored. It is a gorgeous, almost achingly beautiful book. If someone could "paint" a book, this would be it. True art. Reading this book is like taking a drug... you walk away seeing everything from a different -- and spiritually deeper -- angle. This book makes me realize how asleep we are, and how much richer life is than we ever stop...more
Tamir Damari
Helprin is not for everyone. He's moralistic, his female characters are an afterthought, much of his philosophy is better suited for the 19th century and his books invariably involve military conflict. That being said, he's is the most talented writer I've ever read. He can make the most mundane event sound poetic, and his gift for metaphor is staggering. There are passages within each of his books which almost literally take your breath away.

There is a relentless optimism to all of his stories....more
Kyle Mcclure
You win, Mr. Helprin. Your fine novel transcends my smart-ass review. Even so, I give you five out of five pitons driven into the rock face of an impossible cliff in the Italian Alps by a soldier we have come to love on his way to rescue his friend who we hope is not dead. You get extra credit for your humorous inclusion of the roller-coaster decorating profession.
William Clay
I always liked books where the protagonist confronts whatever obstacles confront him and overcomes in the end. Reading this book,and reading Mark Helprin in general, is like listening to a Mozart Symphony. I feel arrested by it's melodies until it's conclusion. Helprin's gift for prose is unparalleled. His descriptions are so vivid I felt like I was watching a film. What I don't particularly like are books, or films that try to portray "true life" as it were. These are ones where the bad guy get...more
Keith
My pick for the best American novel of the late 20th century. Dramatic, engrossing, a long and poignant read, an amazing journey in the midst of war, the discovery of love, all anchored by hearlbreakingly beautiful prose.

From the Mark Helprin web site (used with permission)

In the summer of 1964, Alessandro Giuliani, an old and partially lame professor of aesthetics —white hair and mustaches, white suit, cane— is thrown off a trolley on the outskirts of Rome after he comes to the defense of a yo...more
Dan
So...this would probably be the greatest novel ever written. It is a war story and a love story, a story about God and beauty, a story about perseverance, and it's really funny and quirky at times. Mark Helprin is our most intelligent writer, and our most underappreciated. I don't read many books more than once, but I've read this one 3 times and some of the passages countless times.
Lobstergirl
Aug 03, 2014 Lobstergirl rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Judith Giuliani
Shelves: own, fiction

The novel probably deserves more than 3 stars. Parts of it are very moving, and Helprin has important things to say and creates a wonderful, deeply humane character in Alessandro Giuliani. But it was a long, looooong slog. It felt like a 40-mile hike. More chore than fun.
KOMET
Never was I MORE RELIEVED to be done with reading a book as I was with this one. This tale, in which Alessandro Giuliani, an aging First World War veteran in his dotage, speaks about his life to a young lad (Nicolo) in his late teens while the 2 make their way on foot from the countryside to Rome during August 1964, is ponderous and tiresome. Alessandro, who grew up and lived a life of ease and comfort up til the First World War, loves to pontificate on just about any subject. In this respect, h...more
Petra
This is a beautiful story. Allesandro’s tale of his life is a love story to his family & comrades in arms. The author, Mark Helprin, makes us care for the characters in this book and grieve for them & their families. Allesandro tells his story with charm and humour and he’s shown to be a man of substance, feeling and loyalty.
He travels with a young, uneducated young man who he defended. Niccolo is enthralled with the story that Allesandro tells of the war, his part in it, and his loves....more
Joe
This is really a beautiful and moving story, full of descriptions for all your senses and great dialogue. At times, it almost read like a screenplay for some sweeping, dramatic, big-screen film. The 800-page story moved quickly in short theatrical scenes and, like in real life, important characters could (and did) emerge at any time.

I'm still trying to figure out one of the recurring themes, and I know some symbolism was just lost on me entirely. Still, the book was full of rich stories and vig...more
Judi Niermann
WOW, this is the BEST novel I've read about WWI. (what a lame sentence to describe one of the best books I've ever read.)
You truly feel all of the emotions of the war hero as he recounts his life. Allesandro opens the story as an old man in 1964 looking back.
Mr Helprin is an extremely talented writer whose work should be savored by anyone with an interest in historical fiction. I think I'll read it again. Absolutely amazing
Garett
I'm on the last 50 pages and have to say this is one of the best books I have ever read. It has changed me as a person and is one that I will read again. When an author can capture what is really important in life and you feel the emotions the character is going through as if they were your own then it is something beautiful. Next time I read this book it will be when I'm traveling through Italy.
Richard
I have read this book twice. It is one of the best books I have ever read. I have read several other Mark Helperin books and have enjoyed them, but this is an endearing story of a man recollecting his life, as a boy, as a soldier for Italy in the Italian Alps, as a lover who suffers profound loss, and who near the end of his life finds happiness. I will probably read this a few more times.
Irene
The book opens and closes with 74-year-old Alessandro imparting life’s great wisdom to a young stranger as they walk the hills outside of Rome. In between, we are told of Alessandro’s experiences as a soldier in World War 1. The writing is elegant, the descriptions are exquisite, the philosophical musings intriguing. There are passages of dialogue that demand a second read, paragraphs so vivid that the reader is transported. But, I also found many pages so bogged down in detail that the experien...more
Cmacauley
An interesting and well-written book, but not one of my favorites. Helprin is a skilled writer, but not brilliant; the story is engrossing and the setting is well-chosen, but I think in the end what really bothered me is that the main character, Alessandro, fails to become truly lovable. He is admirable in a super-hero way: infinitely competent, succeeding when he should and failing when he must. Although we experience nearly every minute of his long life, his strange and frightening experiences...more
Sam Negri
My copy of this book was 860 pages. I read 400 pages and finally came to the conclusion that it was a waste of time because I had practically no curiosity about the main or subordinate characters. I tossed it.

This book was a bestseller when it came out. I have no idea why. It is essentially a collection of 1,500 word anecdotes with a thin film of connecting glue.

Most of what came out of the characters' mouths was implausible. There's an awful lot of inflated dialogue that sounded to me like word...more
John
I'm split on this one, so I'll get the bad out of the way first. Alessandro is too static. He's the same man before, during, and after the war. He's the best at everything and everyone loves him, even when they hate him. Women and empires fall before him. It gets dull. Philosophically, it's repetitive - every hundred pages or so it'll circle back for another pointless, petty, antagonistic religious debate where we're supposed to conclude (like the superman Alessandro) that anyone who doesn't thr...more
Rink Murray
This is the best book I've read in recent memory.

Read by me, February, 2009, as a recommendation from Doug Curtis.

This is a novel of beauty and light. Or horror and sorrow. Of loss and redemption. Of boundless love. These themes contract and expand, contract and expand musically, as on an accordion playing a sweet song that sweeps you back into your most tender, precious and painful memories.

This book is so vast and sweeping that I could not summarize it well without rewriting it, almost word...more
Roger Keane
Mark Helprin is a writer it is hard for me to get my head around. He is very into heroes, and passion, and war- in some ways kind of a grown up six year old. He's also very into beauty, love, and aesthetics. One thing is certain- he is madly inventive, brilliantly descriptive, and every sentence of his writing is life-affirming and bold. On the other hand, you get the impression reading him that he is a true believer- he is not open to anything that might disagree with his fanciful and oversimpl...more
Bennet

Skimmed some, wandered in and out, but was always drawn back in and wanted to stay with Alessandro to the end. Another of Helprin's brilliant characterizations, intimately realized while running the gamut of a lifetime of events, from the most personal to the epic.

From Booklist: "Helprin has a great gift for meaningful, dazzlingly detailed description as well as a nimble sense of humor and a keen perception of life as a jumble of the holy and profane, a chaos that can only be tamed by the power...more
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Mark Helprin belongs to no literary school, movement, tendency, or trend. As many have observed and as Time Magazine has phrased it, “He lights his own way.” His three collections of short stories (A Dove of the East and Other Stories, Ellis Island and Other Stories, and The Pacific and Other Stories), six novels (Refiner's Fire, Winter's Tale, A Soldier of the Great War, Memoir From Antproof Case...more
More about Mark Helprin...
Winter's Tale Freddy and Fredericka Memoir from Antproof Case In Sunlight and in Shadow The Pacific and Other Stories

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“If it weren't for music, I would think that love is mortal.” 298 likes
“As long as you have life and breath, believe. Believe for those who cannot. Believe even if you have stopped believing. Believe for the sake of the dead, for love, to keep your heart beating, believe. Never give up, never despair, let no mystery confound you into the conclusion that mystery cannot be yours.” 194 likes
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