The blurb offers readers the gist of the story. In a nutshell: an American soldier, Andrew Bower, experiences some horrific happenings during the Second World War and the subsequent liberation of a Nazi concentration camp. Nearing being sent home at the end of the European campaign, he’s severely wounded. In his wound- and drug-induced stupor, a dream world story unfolds. He imagines he’s fled to a tiny, neutral country that’s been unaffected by the war. Bowers’s deathbed dream mixes insights into the absurdity and insecurity of war with a fantasy about the adult family life it looks as though he will be denied.
The dream world story explores an interesting theme, particularly involving the notion that to be human means to be a mixed bag of drives and desires and not a mechanistic unified actor. Andrew wants to flee to a place untouched by the war, but even there he (and the people who populate his mind space) finds he can’t escape the anxiety. To be in an unaffected country means only to be in the looming shadow of war. It doesn’t mean one will feel safe. Bowers thus faces the dilemma of whether to go back to war or to stay in war’s shadow. This split is commonly seen in the real world. Soldiers despise being in a war, but are often drawn to it in part because they feel they owe it to their peers, in part because of guilt, and in part because acting is better than sitting around stewing in one’s fear and torment.
The surrealism of the dream sequence gradually unfolded. By this I mean one doesn’t sense an immediate shift in tone and imagery from the real to the metaphysical. This may have been on purpose, and some portion of readers will like it that way, but I suspect another portion of readership would like a clearer / cleaner shift in the feel. There does come a point at which there is a weirdness going on that one can’t reconcile with the real world, but that comes fairly well into the part of the story that isn’t rooted in the real world. It’s a hard line to capture that mental world surrealism without becoming distracting. Adding to the challenge in this case, there’s meant to be a haziness in which real world elements intrude into the mental world.
I found this book to be entertaining and insightful, and would recommend it for readers of war fiction.