Tag Archives: Mark Helprin

The Writing Well Honors Veterans: Most Memorable War-related Posts

Band-of-Brothers

Today, as America honors those who have served their country, The Writing Well revisits this blog’s most poignant posts with veteran themes over the last four years.

Published on U.S. Memorial Days, the 4th of July and other dates of significance to the nation, these entries are examples of storytelling that underscore the power of words to move and heal. They include interviews with memoir, fiction and non-fiction authors who served or lost loved ones during times of war, an Army chaplain researching how a family member tended to the physical and religious needs of Civil War soldiers, as well as memorable war-time speeches and books worth reading.

Pulitzer Prize-nominated Author Jedwin Smith Talks about the Re-release of His Family War-time Memoir, Our Brother’s Keeper

Jedwin Smith’s memoir, originally released in 2005, details the loss of his younger brother, Jeff, the family’s “peacemaker,” during the Vietnam War, and his journey to find out who killed him. Since its release, Our Brother’s Keeper has been widely used by the VA and by the Wounded Warrior Project®, serving  to heal many veterans and bring closure to families still reeling from the sacrifice of their loved ones.

Lost Art of Letter Writing: One Sister’s Tribute to her Brother

Fellow writing group member Susan Jimison talks about her experience crafting her up-and-coming memoir about her brother, Mark Clotfelter, a pilot who died in Vietnam when she was only 14 years old: as a series Jimison_Mark_Suan_Wallof letters to him. “Writing about my brother’s heroic feats during the Vietnam War felt very unnatural for me. It was almost like I was trying to tell a war story. A war I was never in,” recalls Susan, “So, at the suggestion of fellow writer, Mari Ann Steffaneli, I tried epistolary style. Writing letters to my brother is exactly what I had done forty-three years earlier. And so, I continued writing to him, to tell his story, in letter form. It felt natural and that showed in my writing.”

Healing Soldiers: Civil War Devotional Back in Print 

Dr. Bill Nisbet, a retired Army Reserves chaplain who serves on the pastoral staff of my church, http://annewainscott.com/wp-content/uploads/blogger/-CAl993Uu9sY/T_MKAFoH1GI/AAAAAAAAA6g/iMmZ7OAheFg/s1600/Charles_Quintard_-_Brady-Handy.jpgshares his journey re-publishing The Confederate Soldier’s Pocket Manual of Devotions, a 1863 book compiled by Nisbet’s great-great-great grandfather, a medical doctor and chaplain of the First Tennessee Regiment, who cared for the physical and spiritual needs of soldiers as a hospital field surgeon.

 

 

Revolutionary Speeches to Rememberhttp://annewainscott.com/wp-content/uploads/blogger/-v3dX8-J7af8/TeI25IE0gGI/AAAAAAAAASg/266em4UipOI/s1600/fdr_congress.jpg

From American presidents FDR and Abraham Lincoln to esteemed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, these famous orators delivered patriotic speeches that have inspired generations, and made a lasting impact on the public during times of trial and times of healing.

Three Must-Reads of the War-time Experience

These three books — two works of historical fiction and one non-fiction work– memorably captured a soldier’s struggles and experiences in wars past and present. They include my all-time favorite historical novel, The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.

The other books featured are: A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin, and WAR by Sebastian Junger.  Helprin’s book focuses on an elderly Italian professor and veteran of the Great War, who is moved to tell the story of his life to a young, illiterate Sicilian industrial worker, as they take a long walk from Rome to a village in the mountains. Junger, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, recreates the experiences of an American infantry platoon he spent months shadowing in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2008. The story chronicles the 15-month deployment of a platoon in the Korangal Valley, considered the most hostile and dangerous valley in the country. The valley, the author explains, “is sort of the Afghanistan of Afghanistan: too ­remote to conquer, too poor to intimidate, too autonomous to buy off.”

Transformation & Redemption: A Conversation with Civil War Storyteller Robert Hicks

Book_WidowoftheSouthI relished this in-depth interview with Robert Hicks, acclaimed author of two engaging historical fiction books about the Civil War and its aftermath. The first, The Widow of the South, is the tale of Carrie McGavock, a headstrong wife and mother who, in November 1864, finds her plantation home turned into a field hospital during the devastating one-day Battle of Franklin (widely considered as among the five bloodiest hours in the entire war).

Robert’s second novel, A Separate Country, takes place in New Orleans in the years after the Civil War, and focuses on the life of John Bell Hood, arguably one of the most controversial generals of the Confederate Army–and one of its most tragic figures.

Books for Heroes – A Worthy Cause

No soldier should be without a book — that sentiment formed the inspiration for creating this charitable foundation that ships books to soldiers free of charge. Thanks to the generosity of numerous book publishers, bookstore customers and trucking firms, Books for Heroes has shipped thousands of books to armed forces in Afghanistan, VA hospitals, and U.S. military bases. The charity got a major boost when bestselling author James Patterson donated  200,000 of his own books to the cause.

 

Three Must-reads of the War-time Experience

In observance of this Memorial Day weekend, I share three books — two works of historical fiction and one non-fiction work– that memorably capture a soldier’s struggles and experiences in wars past and present.  

 

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

“Lee raised a hand. ‘General Pickett, I want you to re-form your division in the rear of this hill.’ 
Pickett’s eyes lighted as if a sudden pain had shot through him. He started to cry. Lee said again with absolute calm, ‘General, you must look to your division.’
Pickett said tearfully, voice of a bewildered angry boy, ‘General Lee, I have no division.'”
 

Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War classic takes you to July 1863 and the four most bloody and courageous days of our nation’s history. It tells the story of soldiers on both side of the battle, and in so doing, leaves you with an indelible sense of who these men were and how they felt.

“He dreamed of Maine and ice black water; he awoke to a murderous sun.” This quote in the book’s second chapter on Joshua Chamberlain perfectly captures the homesickness felt by soldiers, and the stifling discomfort of that Pennyslvania summer.

In 2005, Jon Thompson, a retired English and Civil War history teacher from Ohio, argued that Shaara’s masterpiece was the best Civil War book ever written at a meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable. His reasoning? The book “describes Civil War combat as no other book ever has…vividly, graphically and accurately…Because it takes the reader into the minds and hearts of the soldiers…to know their thoughts…and feel their emotions…to know their ideas and ideals….their fears and frustrations…their dedication…their courage….their sense of duty.”

Ken Burns, acclaimed filmmaker of The Civil War, said this about the book, which was first published in 1974: “Remarkable…A book that changed my life…I had never visited Gettysburg, knew almost nothing about that battle before I read the book, but here it all came alive.”

In November 2000, Jeff Shaara, an historical fiction writer in his own right and the son of Michael Shaara, spoke about the legacy of his father’s book at the Lincoln Forum at Gettysburg. Mr. Shaara recalls that the book was originally rejected by 16 publishers — a result no doubt of the bad timing as the country was coming out of the Vietnam War era — before it was picked up by a small independent publisher, The David McKay Company, which was going out of business. When the book first won the Pulitzer Prize, people couldn’t get a copy and were calling Shaara’s house requesting a copy. Eventually, Random House acquired the small publisher.

A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin

 

 
I’m not afraid,” Rafi said.
“Why not?”
“If I die tomorrow it will have been useless to have been afraid today.”
  
This lengthy book of war, love and life, focuses on an elderly Italian professor and veteran of the Great War, who is moved to tell the story of his life to a young, illiterate Sicilian industrial worker, as they take a long walk from Rome to a village in the mountains. The boy learns about the elderly man’s experience as a soldier in the First World War, of how he lost one family, gained another, and lost it, too.
 
Author Mark Helprin formerly served in the British Merchant Navy, the Israeli infantry, and the Israeli Air Force. His essays and articles have appeared in The New Yorker for almost a quarter of a century. His Memorial Day tribute just published in the Wall Street Journal provides clarity in regard to how, where and when to go to war. 
 
 
 
Helprin shares his journey writing the book, including the loss of his father during its writing, in an interview with Connie Martinson Books.
 
 
 
Here are a few reviews of A Soldier of the Great War:
  • “Vast, ambitious, spiritually lusty, all-guzzling, all-encompassing.” (NY Times Book Review)
  •  “Helprin stands bravely apart . . . taking on all comers with a tone that recalls Hemingway.” (The Boston Globe)
  • “An incredible tale…a fascinating story, so rich with detail that you almost think it is a factual account. Helprin does such a wonderful job of crafting the soldier’s life story, you would think that he had firsthand experience as an Italian soldier in the same time period.” (Amazon.com reviewer)

WAR by Sebastian Junger

 

“He throws his last grenade and then sprints the remaining ground to where Brennan should be. The Gatigal spur is awash in moonlight, and in the silvery shadows of the holly forests he sees two enemy fighters dragging Josh Brennan down the hillside. He empties his M4 magazine at them and starts running toward his friend.”  — WAR by Sebastian Junger

Sebastian Junger, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and the author of The Perfect Storm, spent months shadowing an American infantry platoon deployed in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2008.

The result is War, which chronicles the 15-month deployment of a platoon in the Korangal Valley, which was considered the most hostile and dangerous valley in the country. The valley, the author explains, “is sort of the Afghanistan of Afghanistan: too ­remote to conquer, too poor to intimidate, too autonomous to buy off.”

 

Junger, who cut his teeth as a freelance wartime reporter during the Bosnia conflict in the 90s, shares details of his journey at a May 2010 meeting of The Commonwealth Club of California, the nation’s oldest and largest public affairs forum.

 One military reviewer called WAR “the most definitive book I’ve ever read about soldiers in combat.”  Another said, “a well-crafted story that tells the story of what our troops in Afghanistan are enduring on a daily basis….A MUST-READ!!”