©2004 William Woodruff; (P)2014 Audible, Inc.
In a way I'm surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. I tend to prefer linear plots-- first A happens, then B, and so on, until Z follows logically at the end. This novel doesn't follow that plan. It's more of a mosaic-- smaller stories, generally following the timeline of the British Anzio campaign in WWII, splashed on the canvas in such a way that up close you don't see exactly how they relate to each other. But by the end, you come away with a deeper sense of what it must have been like for the men at war.
I loved the rhythm of this book; the narrator was fantastic and perhaps it's a cliche, but there truly was a lyrical quality to the text. It just sounds wonderful, and the power of the spoken word is what kept me engaged when the logical side of the brain was looking for pegs to hang the stories on (it's not that there's not plenty of plot and action, it's just that the novel is not structured in that A thru Z fashion).
I enjoyed this book so much I want to buy the hardcover version to see what that lyrical prose actually looks like in print!
It was a very skillfully written book on the battle to take Rome. I was glued to it the whole time and listened to it in one day. I was fascinated with the narrator's ability to mimic various English accents or dialects, which really brought the story to life. This was the glue that held it together for me. Vessel of Sadness is not a Ernie Pyle book on the Anzio Beach experience. It seems to be more of a rendering from a British infantry perspective with an unusual skill for weaving a story that paints a picture in your mind. I was a little disappointed that there was no mention of General Mark Clark, the hero of Anzio, the massacre of over 700 US Army Rangers by German infantry or the terror tactic of the Germans to walk long-range artillery in just to take out a single soldier they spotted. My father who is deceased was at Anzio. His unit, the 102nd Barrage Balloons, were brought in from Naples to land on the Anzio Beachhead four days after the initial invasion. He said they were in fox holes and trenches filled with water up to their chests while living in their own excrement & urine. He said they were brought up out of the trenches every three days.He said there was a British Army unit next to there's. He said the Germans hit the Allies with artillery every day. During one barrage, a British soldier came up out of the water in the trench and started walking for the open; he dropped his rifle and kept walking. British & American soldiers started yelling and hollering for him to come back, but he kept walking. Suddenly the sound of German artillery was heard coming in. My father said the German's walked the shells until they took him out. One moment there was a soldier, and the next there was no one there. The most traumatic experience for my father was when German "commandos" hit the fuel supply that the British unit had. He said they heard screaming and yelling and crying. They went running to the British area to see many British soldiers totally engulfed in flames and running. He said they tackled them and threw them down and rolled them on the ground. When I asked if they had saved any, he only shook his head indicating "no" and held his head down for the longest time. My father told me before he died at age 80 that he had nightmares & night sweats his entire life; it was the same reoccurring nightmares about trying to save the burning British soldiers. He said he could still hear them crying: "My feet are burning!" He said their boots burned right off from them. My father said they had artillery attacks every day for four months until reinforcements came in and got them off the beachhead. He said after every artillery barrage, they would go out looking for survivors. One day he saw a GI standing alone holding his intestines in his hands. My father asked if he could help. The GI told him he had a brother and what unit he was in and to get him. My father brought the brother and the two brothers embraced, and the wounded brother died in the arms of the other brother. I said to my father: Daddy, did that happen often at Anzio. He said quietly: "That was Anzio everyday." And he hung his head and was silent for a while. When I asked my father who suffered the most at Anzio, he said the infantry took the brunt of it. After Rome my father's unit was disbanded because they took down more Allied planes than enemy planes. If you asked my father what Anzio was like, he would whisper in a very low voice: "Anzio was hell." If you tried to push him further for information, he would tell you:" If you were at Anzio, you'd wish you were never born." He would only talk with combat war veterans about the war. I had great difficulty gleaning what I got. He said he went to a replacement detachment and was in the invasion of Southern France, the Rhineland & Central Germany and never again saw anything that compared to Anzio. The book Vessel of Sadness is an important read on the battle of Rome-Arno.
This volume should be made compulsory reading for all politicians who seem to think that going to war is only an exercise in proving who is right. I defy anyone to listen to this without shedding a tear or two.
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