Book Recommendation: The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer
I picked up this book after strong recommendations from a number of sources as THE book to read to get a feeling for the life of a German soldier on the Eastern Front during World War II. After tearing through it I can only add to the accolades. It is truly an engrossing and powerful read.
The subject of the story is a French-German soldier (Guy Sajer) who enters the German military in 1942. What follows is three years of pain, degradation, suffering, exhaustion, injuries, false hope, and death. It is hard to use this description to sell a book or convince you that it is worth reading, but I think you will find a new appreciation for the life of a soldier (of any nation) after reading his story.
I have two short segments which left an impression;
First is an encounter Guy has on his very first train ride to the Russian front as a freshly minted soldier during a snowy night. Their train had to pull over to let a westbound train pass on the same track – a train loaded with Russian prisoners. They were placed on flat cars like cattle and because of the high wind and freezing temperatures many had died. The survivors had stacked up the dead and placed them on the front of each car to act as wind breaks for those still alive… His amazement is conveyed crisply by his writing style.
The other incident was his first experience on leave in finding a young woman with whom he shared a week of semi-peace. This chapter is so incongruous relative to all the other experiences he has that becomes utterly engrossing. Unlike contrived Hollywood romances placed in movies for the sake of gratuity, this entirely juvenile and innocent affair is perfectly written, with an ending which makes you feel surprisingly connected to the post-war Guy who is penning this book.
I can’t say enough good things about this book. It contains practically no politics, no Nazi-fanaticism, and almost no hatred for the Bolsheviks he is fighting almost every day. It also contains very little in the way of heroics. It is simply the story of one soldier doing his duty and trying to stay alive in the worst possible conditions.