Review by John for Nobody Comes Back by Donn Pearce.
John’s quick take: A gritty historical fiction set during the Battle of the Bulge in WWII – think an updated The Red Badge of Courage crossed with a dose of Catch 22.
John’s description: As WWII reaches its climax, an unsettled Toby Parker is too young to enlist in the American Army but can’t think of anything else to do. To date his life has been characterized by neglect, instability and struggling to make ends meet. He manages to finagle his way into the army and after some brief training finds himself shipped off to France. It is late 1944 and Germany is struggling to hold back surging Allied forces - but Hitler decides to make one last major offensive push in the Ardennes with the ensuing “Battle of the Bulge” totally taking the Allies by surprise. After landing Toby is almost immediately thrown into a vicious battle.
Any thoughts Toby might have had about the nature of war are soon swept away. Quite apart from the terrifying and bloodthirsty engagements with the enemy, what he experiences is bewildering, confusing, totally chaotic and at times absolutely illogical. Having to learn quickly, a wounded Toby tries desperately to survive, but it is sometimes not clear if the greatest danger comes from the Germans or from some on his own side. A lifetime’s worth of experiences are crammed into just a few searing days.
A historical footnote for those that are interested - the Battle of the Bulge was the largest and bloodiest battle fought by the United States in WWII. It also severely depleted Germany's war-making resources, thereby restricting Germany’s ability to defend itself during the final stages of the war.
John’s thoughts: This book doesn’t pull any punches about the nature of war; it is very graphic and feels authentic. Apart from the viciousness of humans, one of the overriding themes of the story is the chaos of war. For sure the Battle of the Bulge was a confusing engagement and I’m not sure if Pearce has accurately reflected that or whether he has embellished it a bit – but it certainly makes for a compelling story. The development of the Toby Parker character over just a few days is remarkable. I’ve no right to comment on whether or not it is realistic, but it certainly does ram home the awful nature of war and what it does to people.
The element of Catch 22 comes in with the idiotic behavior of some people and the bureaucratic and nonsensical orders that had to be followed. There is also some deep irony in enemies sometimes treating people better than supposed friends.
There is a lot to like about this book. It is easy to read, interesting and pulls you along. Sometimes the action almost got to be almost too much – but there again what was I expecting in choosing to read a book like this? If you like historical fiction set in times of war then I’d certainly recommend this book. I’d rate it three stars.
Forge Books | October 2013 (first pub date 2005) | Trade Paperback | 256 pages