Scott Martin's Reviews > The Forgotten Soldier

The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer
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's review
Feb 15, 11

Read in February, 2011

A good but tough memoir. It follows the life of a young half-French/half-German boy from Alsace who enlists in the Wehrmacht in late 1942 and all his subsequent actions up until the end of the war. He is sent to the Russian front, which is a brutal, unforgiving assignment, with death from the Soviets and the environment constantly surrounding him. While he avoided the hell that was Stalingrad, he did suffer through the battles of Kharkov and the long, slow, bloody retreat of the Germany Army across Russia, the Ukraine, Poland, and into Germany. It is a constant barrage of sorrow and melencholy, and even small victories (going a full night without being shelled, being able to take a hot shower behind the lines) are overshadowed by the relentlessnes of the war. Our protagonist meets men of good and bad quality, and during the course of this war, he makes several close friends (of whom, most will die in combat). He sees acts of individual courage and bravery (driving his trucks through heavy barrages of Soviet artillery, the old veteran holding his position to allow his fellow soldiers to engage in a successful retreat), as well as acts of barbarism and depravity (horrendous executions of prisioners and civilians, a priest assigned to his unit caught in a threesome with another soldier and a Ukranian woman). However, the most touching part and the part of the saga that seems to pain the author the most is his two weeks leave in Berlin. Originally intending to return to Alsace, restrictions confine him to Germany and Berlin, when, while calling on the family of a fallen comrade, he falls in love with a young woman, Paula. It is a young, innocent love (no sexual relations) of two people caught up in a horrific war. When Guy leaves Berlin, he maintains and professes his love for Paula, and while there is limited correspondence between the two, the author would never see her again (Her fate is unknown from what the memoir tells us). As the war progresses to the final stages, any semblance of heroism and pride are gone, replaced only by the instinct to survive, to fight against fear. While he does not abandon his fellow soldiers during retreats unless he must, it is fear that drives him, and somehow, he survives the war, an aged young man. Not uplifting, but definately worth a read.
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