A title I’m surprised hasn’t shown up more often of the “Best of 09” lists is Peace by Richard Bausch. It was published quietly last August but deserves serious recognition. Perhaps it’s a slow burner.
It’s the first title from Tuskar Rock, a new imprint of Atlantic, run by Colm Tóibín and publisher/editor/agent Peter Straus. In the press release I received with the proof Tóibín had likened the novella to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Jaysus, no pressure then Bausch.
On a cold, wet evening on a rural Italian roadside, mid-WWII, a weary band of American soldiers encounter elderly local Angelo. Ordered by their sergeant to use Angelo as a guide, Corporal Marson and Privates Asch and Joyner are dispatched to scout out the enemy on a nearby mountain. The hours the four men spend on the mountain see them forced to confront the stark reality of the evil acts perpetrated during wartime. In fact towards the end it reminded me of that harrowing episode, ‘Why We Fight’, in American drama Band of Brothers, the one where they discover a concentration camp and the reality of Nazi rule hits them. A powerful vignette of human despair.
Was it good? God yes. Less than 200 pages long it’s a cracking story, perfectly paced, incredibly evocative and even, dare I say it, moving. Heart of Drakness it is not. But worth a read in its own right.
Also a handy Christmas choice for uncles, brothers, father or anyone like me with an inexplicable and unexpected addiction to war stories.