Title: I Am Not A Soldier
Author: Dwight Phoenix
Genre: Historical Fiction
I Am Not A Soldier chronicles one man’s journey from boyhood to adulthood against the backdrop of a country at war. It follows the main protagonist, Muller, through the early innocence of long summers and first loves to the brutality and terrors of life under the Nazi regime. Through the relationships and experiences that he encounters along the way, Muller will be forced to make choices that strikes at the very heart of everything he has always believed about himself.
The use of first-person narrative meant that readers would only see events unfold from Muller’s perspective. However, the revolving door of supporting characters kept Muller from being flat and one-dimensional and added much-needed nuance and depth to a protagonist that had a propensity for seeing the world as all black or white. For example, the complicated and tragic figure of Eisenhower provided the perfect foil and contrast to Muller’s relentless and often all-encompassing need to hang on to his morality even at the risk of his own safety or that of others.
The author had a way of describing scenes that was evocative and almost transcendent. The choices he made with regards to wording and phrasing engaged the senses and brought each setting to life, whether it was Munich in the 1930s, a small village in Warsaw, or the cramped spaces soldiers were forced to live in where every inch of leg room was a luxury. He was very adept at adding little touches that really grounded the readers within the story, and he was able to distil the large-scale experience of war into something intimate, making it all the more chilling and haunting for being so personal.
However, this book could have benefitted from tighter plotting and better pacing. In some chapters, readers were treated to expositions and internal monologues during a pivotal plot point, slowing the momentum of the narrative just when it needs to move forward the most. In others, driving conflicts were resolved and plot twists were revealed in an almost dizzying pace, with little or no foreshadowing. Rearranging some of the elements of the story to really build tension and ramp up suspense would have ensured that the entirety of the book built on the solid foundation of its premise.
This book offers a rare, inside-look into the other side of a war that has been well-documented in the annals of history. Bold and ambitious in scope, it paints a picture of what it was like for the people who were made to believe in an ideology and the repercussions it had on both a personal and global level. Written with insight and a deep understanding of how forces beyond our control often affect our ability to make a choice, this is ultimately a story of the personal triumphs that can be achieved when you continue to push on and be true to yourself despite the overwhelming odds stacked against you.
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