The Human Body

Pamela Dorman: Viking. Oct. 2014. 336p. tr. from Italian by Anne Milano Appel. ISBN 9780670015641. $27.95. F
OrangeReviewStarItalian soldiers played a part in the recent ill-fated war in Afghanistan, and this novel tells the story of a small group of them at a remote outpost there. Among the main characters is Lieutenant Egitto, a doctor, who's smart, sensitive, and depressed, and who ruminates about his past family life and romantic failures. Roberto Ietri, one of the younger soldiers, also thinks about his kinsmen and becomes friendly with the older, hard-nosed Cederna, among the few looking forward to a real battle, if it ever comes. Meanwhile, Marshall Rene finds his shell of cynicism and duty cracking under the Afghan sun. Then a mission is conceived that involves accompanying some local truck drivers who have been supplying the base in their return trip across miles of hostile, Taliban-held territory. An ambush arises, lives are lost, and people are changed forever.
VERDICT Despite the tragic events, this is a very entertaining novel, with the characters' innate and passionate sense of the absurdity of their situation, and of life itself, evident in every scene. The fast-paced, present-tense narrative seems to have been translated accurately to capture the nuances of emotion and drama conveyed by the highly intelligent and perceptive Giordano (The Solitude of Prime Numbers). [See Prepub Alert, 4/27/14; for another take on the Italian experience in Afghanistan, see also Melania G. Mazzucco's Limbo, p. 95.]

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