After reading Dos Passos’ USA trilogy in December, 2010, I sang his praises and looked forward to reading more of his work. I added Three Soldiers to my second list of 100 books and after finding it under my Christmas tree this year, was intent on its perusal.
Given my evident admiration for Dos Passos, I gave it an atypical two-week schedule as I wanted to savor every word. I am sorry to say, I was a tad disappointed as it was not the second masterpiece I had hoped for, and I think it was longer than necessary and could have ended at the armistice. This has not been an unusual experience in reading a beloved author’s other works and, as I’ve said before, I do realize they can’t all be magnificent
Dos Passos depicts World War I as experienced by three Americans in 1917 France. Each man approaches the war with his own expectations and each has them shattered when faced with the realities of war and the functioning of the military.
Dan Fuselli is an eager 19-year-old from San Francisco who dreams of becoming a corporal and works hard to impress the higher-ups. His grinning and bearing it are for nought, however, as he never seems to get the breaks he works so hard for.
Chrisfield is 20, from Indiana and without efforts, gets the promotions sought out by Fuselli. He does not handle authority and criticism well and his reactions to a hated sergeant are way over the top. While seemingly callous, his guilt turns to paranoia and eventually takes him out of control.
John Andrews from New York, is 22 and dreams of becoming a composer and hopes to continue his education in Paris. His perfunctory attitude toward the war is evident to his fellow soldiers as well as to the brass, but he does little to hide it. His feelings of superiority and self-pity are irksome and when his dreams are within reach, he cracks under the pressure. A very foolish man indeed.
(Letter from Dos Passos written to his friend, Rumsey Marvin, from the Western Front in France working in the ambulance corp)
I’ve been meaning to write you again & again–but I’ve been so vastly bitter that I can produce nothing but gall and wormwood.
The war is utter damn nonsense–a vast cancer fed by lies and self seeking malignity on the part of those who don’t do the fighting.
Of all the things in this world a government is the thing least worth fighting for.
None of the poor devils whose mangled bodies I take to the hospital in my ambulance really give a damn about any of the aims of this ridiculous affair–They fight because they are too cowardly & too unimaginative not to see which way they ought to turn their guns–
For God’s sake, Rummy boy, put this in your pipe and smoke it–everything said & written & thought in America about the war is lies–God! They choke one like poison gas–
I’d truly enjoy any time spent with Mr. Dos Passos. Perhaps he’d share his feelings of not being acknowledged by his father for many years and how he worked through that betrayal in his novels. I’d love to learn how he continually delivered magnificent descriptives.
My rating for Three Soldiers is an 8 out of 10.
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Next up, Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe…