Gone to Soldiers

Marge Piercy’s 800-page non-sf WWII novel Gone to Soldiers (published in 1987) has been sitting unread on my bookcase for some time. I don’t recall when I bought it, but I’m pretty sure the only reason I did is that I very much liked Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time. But anything over about 400 pages long tends to feel like kind of a slog to me, and I don’t read much non-sf, and so it’s been languishing on the shelf.

Recently, my random-unread-book-picker picked it, and I started reading it, and it didn’t immediately grab me, and I figured I would probably skim it. But I put it down for a week or two while reading other things, and when I picked it up again I immediately hit a section that I liked a lot.

It was the first chapter from the viewpoint of Jacqueline, a teenage Jewish girl in Paris in 1939–1940. It seems to me to do a great job of capturing a particular kind of teenage voice: utterly sure that she understands the world far better than anyone else, and yet very vulnerable. (I of course have never been a teenage Jewish girl in Paris in 1939–1940, nor any other sort of teenage girl, so I may be wrong about how true-to-life this portrayal is, but it felt very real to me.) In this particular case, her rejection of her Jewish heritage and her certainty that the war isn’t a big deal add to the poignancy for me.

And then the next section is the first chapter from the POV of Abra, a 23-year-old sexually liberated goyish woman from Maine, living in NYC. Which I’m also enjoying a great deal. Sample quote:

[Abra] was compared [by her family] to one Abigail of dreaded memory who had been a bluestocking and an impassioned abolitionist and who had once actually made a public speech, bringing shame on the family by this wanton act…

So I’m now thinking that I may read the whole book after all. We’ll see. (I’m still only 27 pages in.)

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