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Friday 30 September 2011

America Goes On by Paul Salvette

This was an unusual novella.  I had rather mixed feelings about it until the ending – which was a bit of a jaw-dropper.  I thought it was rather clever and very definitely worth reading.

I was quite attracted by the book's hook; a war veteran, Frank, travels across the Californian desert to New York to meet up with a girlfriend and drop in on his close ex-comrades along the way. I was keen to read how a war veteran copes with 'normal' life after being part of indescribable horrors—ones no young man today really imagines he will witness—and how Frank would readjust, mentally.  Having only been to America a couple of times, I thought too, I might learn about a different part of this vast country.

The novella is written in the first person and in the present tense (although it did once wander off course).  Frank describes how he ended up fighting for his country; I'm not so sure that in the beginning it was for all the right reasons, but certainly, by the time his second tour of duty was over, the patriotism of this young man is very evident.  As he travels across the desert and stops to catch up with his friends or to rest, he encounters various people who realise from his appearance that he is or was a Marine. It is on these occasions he discovers an indifferent attitude to war and those that serve in it—an attitude that riles him somewhat, believing he deserves more for putting his young life on the line for his country and it engenders a level of cynicism in him.  He is keen to get to his destination and the lovely girlfriend he is eager to spend maybe a little time with, maybe a lifetime with, who knows, and to reacquaint himself with civilian life, albeit with a different perspective.  His last port of call, however, gives him some answers to where his destiny lies……..

This story isn't great literature – the language is harsh, regional and rough-edged.  The sentiments, however, are clear and thought-provoking and just as you begin to think that this is just a hard-hitting, but sometimes poignant collection of reflections from a hardened war veteran which looks as if it will end rather sweetly……you get a metaphoric slap in the face.

As it happens, I didn't learn anymore about America's geography.  However, despite Frank's perception of his own compatriots' lackadaisical attitude to war, personally, I have never undervalued the sacrifice made by men and women who put their lives at such tremendous risk and the respect, awe and admiration I have for them is beyond measure.

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