THE iREAD REVIEW
In Annechino's gripping biographical novel, a young army recruit fights to survive on the battlefield and on the run behind enemy lines in war-ravaged Italy.
In 1942, 18-year-old Angelo DiMarco enlists in the military partly out of patriotism and partly to provoke emotion from his distant father. After distinguishing himself at training camp, he is disappointed to be assigned a non-combat commission in England. Determined to see action, he petitions for a transfer and is ultimately assigned to the 1st Ranger Battalion stationed in Italy, under German invasion as the two countries’ alliance crumbles. After sustaining heavy losses, the overmatched Rangers are forced to surrender, and survivors are boarded on trains bound for German work camps. Determined to avoid this fate, Angelo plans his escape with three fellow Rangers.
Much of the story’s tension and suspense derive from skillful plotting. The novel opens in February 1944 on the German prison train, then travels back to 1942, when Angelo enlists, and follows his experiences chronologically to meet the fateful decision on the train, roughly midway through the book. The second half builds suspense around Angelo’s predicament as an escaped American soldier in enemy-occupied territory. The precariousness of his relationships with locals and the uncertainty of whom to trust evoke W. Stanley Moss’ Ill Met By Moonlight.
Annechino’s poetic descriptions of Italy’s beautiful landscape and architecture play counterpoint to unflinching depictions of devastation and gore. The juxtapositions, reminiscent of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, subtly and effectively signify Angelo’s emotional transformation from naive recruit to battle-scarred soldier fighting not only for his physical survival but also to sustain his capacity for empathy both for his “brothers” and enemy soldiers. While the bonds that develop among Rangers are compelling and powerful, they don’t romanticize the steep cost of war. Instead, they become another means through which Angelo meditates on what it means to be a man.
Nuanced and eloquently written, More Than a Soldier adds to the body of WWII literature an extraordinary story of survival and a deeply affecting portrait of a soldier’s coming-of-age.