Monday, September 14, 2009

On "Ghost Soldiers" by Hampton Sides *****

I remember how manipulated I felt by two Spielberg films on World War II--Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan. And I had at points similar feelings here. But it's inevitable. In war stories, in these places at the edge of our own humanity, where we treat one another like bugs we don't like crawling around our apartment, one can't help but cry--and cry again when somehow our state of being human is restored.

Ostensibly the story of the Bataan Death March, Ghost Soldiers follows two tracks. One is the story of U.S. Rangers' raid on a POW camp where many of those Bataan marchers who survived ended up. The other is the story of the POWs themselves. The one is "heroic." The other is incredibly sad. One would make a great movie. The other could be made into some kind of existential novel of great nihilism. In the end, of course, the stories meet. And one rushes onward to get to that ending, to see whether this impossible mission can be carried off and if so how well. Sides has done his research well, but he's done an even better job of molding all of it into a compelling, emotional book.

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