Audie Award Nominee, Best Solo Narration, 2013
It is September 1919: Twenty-one-year-old Tristan Sadler takes a train from London to Norwich to deliver a package of letters to the sister of Will Bancroft, the man he fought alongside during the Great War. But the letters are not the real reason for Tristan's visit. He can no longer keep a secret and has finally found the courage to unburden himself of it. As Tristan recounts the horrific details of what to him became a senseless war, he also speaks of his friendship with Will - from their first meeting on the training grounds at Aldershot to their farewell in the trenches of northern France. The intensity of their bond brought Tristan happiness and self-discovery as well as confusion and unbearable pain.
The Absolutist is a masterful tale of passion, jealousy, heroism, and betrayal set in one of the most gruesome trenches of France during World War I. This novel will keep listeners on the edge of their seats until its most extraordinary and unexpected conclusion, and it will stay with them long after they've finished.
©2011 John Boyne (P)2012 Tantor
Tell us about yourself! I am a former high school history teacher and now, a semi-retired physician assistant.
WW1 has just begun and two English boys meet during basic training and become fast friends. Tristan lies about his age to enlist because he has been thrown out of his parental house with his father's condemnation that it would be best if he were killed by a German bullet. Will, the son of a vicar, enlists for patriotic reasons. The boys develop an emotional relationship that becomes strained when Will asks Tristan to support him in a point of principle. Tristan, the more pragmatic of the two, refuses because both he and WIll could be put into jeopardy if Will reveals what really happened to a prisoner of war.
John Boyne deftly straddles the line between cowardice and honor and love and hate. He leaves us stunned as we careen toward an ending so unexpected that I cannot get it our of my mind. This novel is a true tour de force.
It's 1916, and Tristan Sadler has lied about his age in order to sign up to play his part in the Great War. Not, like many other boys, because of any rah-rah bandwagonism or sense of duty . . . but what else can a young man do when his family has disowned him? Things are so bad that his father, upon hearing of Tristan's enlistment, declares that he hopes the Germans kill his son, because "that would be the best thing for all of us."
The novel actually begins in 1919, with Tristan, now 21, aboard a train to Norwich with a packet of letters in his pocket. He plans to return them to the writer, the sister of his wartime friend, Will Bancroft, one of the young men who didn't come home. We soon find that Tristan hopes to unburden himself of a secret, one that goes far beyond the sexual identity he has been trying to keep under wraps. Yes, he and Will did have a few romantic interludes, but where Tristan felt deep love for his friend, Will claimed only that the trauma of war and the immediacy of death pushed him to seek "comfort." But what preys on Tristan's mind is their last conversation and the truth--the whole truth--about Will's last moments.
Tristan's narration takes us through horrific scenes in the trenches that are as vivid as any in Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy or Gallipoli. It's difficult to read these passages without despairing over the tragic loss of a generation and the extreme and often pointless sacrifices these young men--many little more than boys--were expected to make.
Some readers have mentioned that Boyne seems to be playing too many themes at once: the repression of homosexuality, an anti-war statement, the struggle between group mentality and personal values, and whether it is better to die for one's principles or to live without any. I wasn't troubled by this; after all, life is complex, not always linear or singularly focused.
Overall, Boyne has given us an original story, finely written.
(I do have one caveat for anyone who, like me, is hearing impaired. Michael Maloney is an excellent reader who is able to distinguish each character with his wide vocal range and repertoire of accents. However, he has a tendency to drop his voice for dramatic effect. I found myself constantly fiddling with the volume controls, and I still feel that I probably missed a lot. If I had it to do over, I would choose to read this book in print.)
Excellent book. Beautifully written. The reading by Michael Maloney is absolutely perfect. Can't imagine a finer interpretation of this lovely book. You won't be disappointed.
Business Physicist and Astronomer
I don't like this question. I probably will not listen to this book again---but not because it's not brilliant. It's ugly and I don't want to go through it again. But it is a great work.
Tristan's meeting with his father before shipping out to war.
Does a great job of bringing the characters to life.
It sickened me. Man's inhumanity can be overwhelming.
I like the book and recommend it but it's not for everyone. You'll gain insight into human suffering but there is nothing uplifting in the book. If you need "happy endings" this wouldn't be for you.
So, I recommend it with a caution.
Chris Reich, TeachU
An intense book. Difficult to review because the plot cannot be described without spoiling the content. Written in an understated British sort of way and in a way that is unforgettable. I'm glad that I listened to it, but uplifting it is not.
I thought the characters were well developed and put into a setting seldom used. In fact, it was the setting which made me select the book, not the topic.
And the topic - well, it's something we're all forced to have an opinion of in this age - not having an opinion on this matter is considered a crime of omission.
And that's why I would nominate this book for group discussion - because while reading this book I had several interesting thoughts - and that's a compliment to the author. What intrigues me is that I suspect my thoughts are not the normal reaction to the characters and the situation.
Well done. A book that gives me new thoughts, that is my compliment to the author.
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