cover image The Human Body

The Human Body

Paolo Giordano, trans. from the Italian by Anne Milano Appel. Viking/Pam Dorman, $27.95 (316p) ISBN 978-0-670-01564-1

Giordano follows The Solitude of Prime Numbers with a stunning exploration of war. The novel revolves around a platoon of Italian soldiers stationed in Forward Operating Base Ice in the dangerous Gulistan district of Afghanistan. Giordano makes the tedium of combat fascinating with his well-drawn characters. Included in the cast is Lieutenant Egitto, a medical officer escaping his perilous home life; girlfriend-obsessed First Corporal-Major Torsu; and the boisterous Cderna. Giordano covers everything from preparation for deployment—the weekend before they leave, all the soldiers’ girlfriends want to watch movies, but the soldiers want to “tank up on sex for the upcoming months of abstinence”—to the ways soldiers stay in touch with those left at home. The first page indicates that the platoon’s experience was particularly horrible (“In the years following the mission, each of the guys set out to make his life unrecognizable, until the memories... were bathed in a false artificial light”), but the fact that the mission runs off the rails is almost secondary to the beauty, texture, and acuity with which Giordano captures the day-to-day routines of the soldiers, and their efforts to make sense of both their lives in Italy and their military assignment. (Oct.)