Before Their Time: A Memoir

Robert Kotlowitz, Author
Robert Kotlowitz, Author Alfred A. Knopf $24.5 (208p) ISBN 978-0-679-44789-4
Paperback - 208 pages - 978-0-385-49603-2
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In this slow-moving but effective memoir, novelist Kotlowitz (His Master's Voice, 1992) relates his experiences as a soldier in an infantry platoon during WWII. For the author, life as a soldier in the U.S. Army-during both training and combat-is largely mundane, though punctuated by sudden and senseless tragedy. As a teenaged college student, Kotlowitz is drafted into an Army engineering program. When the program is scuttled, he is assigned to the 26th Division of the Third Army, the Yankee Division, as an infantryman. In plain, no-nonsense prose, Kotlowitz describes the meager and spotty combat training he and his fellow soldiers receive under poorly trained officers. During a nighttime training exercise in Tennessee, 20 men from Kotlowitz's company drown trying to cross the rain-swollen Cumberland River on rubber rafts (""a swift and terrible death, in full awareness""). Finally, Kotlowitz and his fellow soldiers are shipped overseas to France, where they endure the sort of trench warfare usually associated with WWI. Under inept leadership, the platoon is ordered to make an offensive drive toward enemy lines that has disastrous consequences. Kotlowitz's expert sense of detail and character bring his fellow soldiers and the platoon's officers to life with humor and wit. While his book is a moving condemnation of war, it is more importantly a compassionate homage to men who died too suddenly, and too young. (Feb.)
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