Customer comments on this Youngstown Ohio Book
A beguiling, jarring tale of war, love and determination
Wheelchair-bound Mathilde Donnay sets her sights on the past to unravel the mystery of her fiance's death in Japrisot's complex novel of love and human perception. Set in post World War I France, the story opens with a masterfully sardonic description of five soldiers, condemned to die for shooting themslves in the hand, being tumbled into the no-man's land between the French and German trenches.
Their loved ones are informed of their death in combat. One, Mathilde, determines to know more and is assisted by a dying ex-soldier -- the man who led the condemned group to the Front.
Mathilde, still unsatisfied, notes oddities and discrepancies in the meagre record she has compiled. She tracks down any possible witness, relentlessly pursues every lead. All evidence, however contradictory in other respects, points to the same end and even Mathilde finally seems resigned to learning no more than just how her lover died.
With humor and an anecdotal style, Japrisot maintains a certain distance from his characters that makes the savagery of war all the more visceral. He leads the reader on with human mysteries -- there are as many versions of the soldiers' deaths as there are individual memories -- and with flashes of pathos and kindness. And the story's ending is as touching as it is surprising.
This is a very slow and plodding novel
I picked up this novel in part due to the many glowing reviews here. In retrospect, I have to wonder if these people were lauding the book or the movie. The book is very tedious in many respects due to its format. I think that Japrisot based his writing partially upon Calvino's work, such as the novel 'If on a Winters Night a Traveler,' or 'Invisible Cities.' The chapters of Japrisot weave from here to there in time and perspective dealing with first hand accounts, letters, and conversations. I think that all of this was a little too clever for Japrisot and that after a while the cumbersome nature of all this forces a collapse of will and you as a reader will be overwhelmed by its overworked zeal. I brought up Calvino because where-as 'Winters Night' is magical in many ways, 'Engagement' comes across as sort of typical.
You might disagree with my summation here. The story is pretty good, though I would not recommend it to anyone. I think that Japrisot's cleverness smothers a lot of what was enjoyable in regards to the plot. I would say that if you enjoyed this book, you are in for a nice treat if you have not read 'Winters Night...' by Calvino. You might also be interested in Murakami's 'Wind Up Bird Chronicle'.
This isn't a mystery in the widely-accepted sense of a mystery. But it is a story of putting together clues to discover the truth. I don't need to summarize the book again (there are plenty of good ones already submitted), but I wanted to add my five stars to the review page. By the way, I read this after I saw the film version (which I also recommend). It's worth reading even after seeing it performed.