Much like the fictional protagonist of One Man's Initiation: 1917, John Dos Passos volunteered after college as an ambulance driver in France during World War I. This novella - Dos Passos' first published work - reshapes those autobiographical experiences into a stirring portrayal of the horrors of war.
Jeff Woodman, an AudioFile Best Voice winner, performs every aspect of the audiobook with appropriate energy, whether he's singing patriotic songs like a guileless soldier or voicing the diversely accented young men who encounter dehumanizing destruction for the first time and wind up disillusioned, or, like Dos Passos himself did, politicized. The discontinuous literary style reflects the innate disorder of war.
Springing from the author's first-hand experience as an ambulance driver and Red Cross worker during World War I, this autobiographical first novel is noteworthy for its vivid and colorful evocation of France at that time and for its passionate indictment of war.
The author's disillusionment with war for a time turned him toward socialism and against capitalism. Ultimately, after being labeled "pro-German" and "pacifist", the author concluded that the quasi-religion of Marxism turned loose more brutal aggression than "poor old Capitalism ever dreamed of".
This anti-war novel complements All Quiet On The Western Front. John Dos Passos drew upon his own experiences as a volunteer amublance driver in France to write this novel. Perhaps more than any other author I ever read, he succeeded in bringing to life the conditions many front line soldiers faced during WW I. His description of the sounds made by the endless firing of artillery shells captured my imagination.
At the conclusion of the novel, he uses an unlikely group of front-line soldiers to articulate his view of society and the future. It strained my credulity.
I hope to read more novels by Dos Passos to see whether he continued to support his preference for socialism, attributing capitalistic greed as the basis for war.
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To read this is to see at once how much is owed by Ernest Hemingway to this particular novel and this wonderful novelist. This novel represents a fully fleshed out narrative that is an interesting alternative to the War Poets and illustrates the boisterousness, naivety and wrong-headedness with which a generation of young Americans went into the First World War and the scars that they carried out of the conflict and bombardment of their cultural sensitivities.
The vignettes dealing with the death and mauling of men and animals are arresting. The unrestrained call to Socialism is revelatory. The rite of passage links 19th Century American literature to the exciting and frightening dawn of a wonderful and transformative century for that country. Where did it all go wrong?