Find us on facebook

Thursday, May 10, 2012

"Company K", the horror of war

Company K- William March

War-books are quite a recurrent kind on American literature, a few of them being unmissable masterpieces that should be in every good bookshelf. Some personal favourites, together with the stories of Tobias Wolff, are Joseph Heller's "Catch-22", Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse-Five", Norman Mailer's "The Naked and the Death" and Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried". And from now on, I have to add "Company K" by William March. 

"Company K" works impressively as a piece of WWI literature (seems it was very far from achieving recognition when it was published in 1933), but it cannot be constrained to a period of time. Because William March, an author who was also a veteran of the Great War, offers an outstanding, devastating semi-fictionalized account of a military unit's experiences. 

This incredible, merciless summary of war horrors also surprises in terms of structure, being a complex yet refreshing mechanism. From deployment to years after the war ended, the book is a fragmented collection of personal stories from each member of the unit (before being published as a novel, it was originally serialized in the Forum Magazine). Written in the first person, there are 113 "chapters" in which each soldier of the company tells his own story, from their very different perspectives. They are snippets, a very brief slice of their life, in their very lowest moment. But the sum of voices, together, by accumulation, creates a mesmerizing account of what means being at war

And the meaning is clear. War means horror. In this collection of war stories there's chaos, utter panic, desolation, stupidity, atrocities, cruelty, sadness, depression, frustration, rage, insanity. Forget about heroism, honour, patriotism or idealism. All can be summarized in the staggering final sentence of "Soldier Charles Gordon": "Everything they taught me to believe in regards to mercy, justice and virtue is a lie... But "God is Love". That's the worst lie ever invented by humans without any doubt". "Company K" shows that war is fuelled by our darkest instincts. "Each war is the destruction of the human spirit" we read appropriately from Henry Miller's quote at the very end of the book.

March's prose is straightforward, bare, visual, sometimes sardonic (and making me recall Yossarian and Snowden from "Catch-22") and always vivid. He has no time to loose in refinements or sentimentalisms, because he has so much to say, so many soldiers, humans to offer their perspective to the reader, to show how they suffered and how he acted. I'm still petrified with the unparalleled talent of March of saying so much in just a couple, three pages. And when he exceeds that length, it is just to "hit us" even harder. The "Manuel Burt" episode (which seems based in March's own terrible experience), the "Unknown Soldier", or the "Leo Brogan" ones are superb examples of writing precision as well as bold anti-war statements, so powerful and disarming as they come from the anonymous minds and throats of the ones who were there.

"Company K" is a masterpiece. A terrible one, but a masterpiece. Thanks to Libros del Silencio for "rescuing" the novel.

SCORE: 9/10

No comments:

Post a Comment