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Soldier's Joy

3.64  ·  Rating Details ·  119 Ratings  ·  15 Reviews
A man returns home from Vietnam to his now abandoned family homestead outside of Nashville, suffering from a serious psychological wound incurred in combat. He meets up with a childhood friend who is black, and together they battle against a platoon of Klansmen for the literal salvation of a local preacher.
Paperback, 480 pages
Published July 1st 1990 by Penguin Books (first published 1989)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Ruthie
Apr 29, 2008 Ruthie is currently reading it
I started this when I was a bit blue because the back synopsis makes clear its about a depressed fellah who lives alone out in the cawntry. Little surprise, misery didn't love company in this case. At least not that particular protagonist. But I'm gonna give it another try. I love delicious detail in the descriptions of playing the banjo. There's also alot of coffee sipping and smoking while pondering in the first few pages which I love in novels as much as I love it in movies.
Cjlang
Jun 29, 2011 Cjlang rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Along with "The Lord of the Rings" - my all time favorite book! I reread it about every 5 years.

One of the things I love about both "Soldier's Joy" and "Save Me Joe Louis" is Bell's unerring ear for the rhythms of southern speech. His characters are usually deeply flawed and yet, at the same time, have a strong streak of nobility.
Gpritchard
Aug 03, 2007 Gpritchard rated it it was amazing
Amazing story about Viet Nam vet teaching himself banjo, his African American friend, and clashes with evangelists.

Interesting style -- chapters swing between the white guy's perspective/life and the black guy's. Plus, the author only refers to the characters by their last names. At first I found this cold, but eventually I appreciated it as part of the tone of the story.

The information on banjo technique and songs was impressive, threaded throughout the story. Made me wish I played an instrume
...more
Tori
Oct 15, 2016 Tori rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
What did I just read??

This book was way longer than it needed to be and didn't develop the characters nearly as well as it could have with all that text. I didn't feel connected to any one of them, and the progression of the story was slow and patchy. I would have liked to see more attention given to the relationships between characters, as well as to the ending, which felt like it was just sprung on me after 500 pages of nothing happening.
Jen
Jul 05, 2012 Jen rated it really liked it


An atypical war novel, one in which the two main characters coalesce over a long, low simmer and, by the end, become acquaintances you don't want to let go of. While there is more thought than talk and action in this story, the author's ear for language is extraordinary. Glad I stumbled across this one.
Susannah
Jan 30, 2013 Susannah rated it it was ok
It was unfortunate how badly I struggled to get through this book because I really wanted to like it. It had such potential to be great because of the issues it dealt with - returning from war, racism, friendship, etc., but it was just so slow and my eyes would gloss over. I guess the writing was just not my style (really long descriptions of things that don't actually help the story progress).
Allison
Sep 30, 2007 Allison rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone
A different "coming home from Vietnam" story. Someone lent it to me 14 years ago, and I'm glad I finally read it. Some of the most beautiful writing I've read for a while. The book doesn't focus on the war or even the hatred for the soldiers after (as so many do), but with two men's coming to being back in their own home in the south. A book men and women would enjoy.
Heather
Aug 30, 2012 Heather rated it did not like it
This was a very slow read. There were a lot of details about banjo playing and I have no prior knowledge about banjo playing details. Not what I was expecting/hoping as far as the relationship between the two men.
Susan
Jul 12, 2015 Susan rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I would be very satisfied if I could write as well as Bell. I wish I had a book group to discuss the ending! takes a long time to circle around to where the plot begins to drive the characters but by then you really want to hear what happens.
Johanna Preston
Feb 26, 2013 Johanna Preston rated it liked it
Shelves: trade-fiction
3.5 stars - slow to start (a LOT of banjo...), but once it got going I really enjoyed it. I found the author prone to some overly descriptive passages, but I will definitely read more of his work. Any recommendations?
Phillip Cushman
Jan 04, 2013 Phillip Cushman rated it really liked it
Bell writes by taking photographs using words instead of pixels. Incredible writer!
Jacque
May 29, 2013 Jacque rated it really liked it
Fabulous writing, really beautiful. Slow start but don't be deterred.
Helene
Aug 10, 2012 Helene rated it it was amazing
Not my usual kind of book. Slow at first, in fact so slow I thought about quitting. So glad I didn't. Beautifully written
Bill
Jul 14, 2012 Bill rated it really liked it
An amazing riff on weighty themes: music, war, vigilantism, love ...
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Madison Smartt Bell is a critically acclaimed writer of more than a dozen novels and story collections, as well as numerous essays and reviews for publications such as Harper’s and the New York Times Book Review. His books have been finalists for both the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, among other honors. Bell has also taught at distinguished creative writing programs including th ...more
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