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4 out of 4 stars
Review by SandraTWP-BRW
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The story centers on the Emmet “Judy” Redding. The reason Redding enters into the armed forces is one heard often - he joined in order to see the world. The actually “job” he joined to do was to play on a sporting team. For Redding, the sport was baseball. He played all year round, traveling with the team. Everything was great until World War I came on the scene and impacted his plans. Redding finds himself shipped to Europe, trained, and fighting in one campaign after another. In between, he picks up the local language and a deep appreciation for France, both the people and the countryside. The story follows the events that continue to shape Redding as he rises in rank and progresses from a green soldier to an experienced Sergeant who, in turn, is leading new and inexperienced soldiers. The reader also gets to know Redding’s fellow soldiers. We learn to appreciate those who arrive at the same time as he, those he meets later, and those who are lost along the way. The bond between the men and the bond they form with the people of France is woven throughout the story of Redding’s service in the war.
There are many admirable aspects of this book. The treatment of the brutality of the war was most impressive. Most people have never been in a battle, and get their frame of reference for one from movies or television. Redline’s descriptions make the graphic violence and the sensory overwhelm real. The reader not only develops an understanding of a battle but the personal experience of the soldier in the midst of one. The author also does a masterful job illustrating the relationship between the military forces and the peoples of the region. Often, the soldiers are not French, and Redline provides deeply believable portraits of locals, especially women. It’s to be noted that many of the men in France are absent from their homes; they are fighting the war, or have already died in the fighting. The women, remaining behind, find ways to survive, by befriending (or more intimately involving themselves with) soldiers, by working for the enemy, and by forming romantic liaisons. The author is honest, but not judgmental. He brings this same honesty to the impact of the brutal, unrelenting violence on the soldiers themselves, from the difficulty some find in controlling their own violent tendencies to the rampant alcoholism the men use to self-medicate throughout the battles.
On the topic of violence: the presentation of brutality in this book is present, but feels honest and never gratuitous. To some extent, it is troubling, but that is a normal response to the actions of war. Rather than feeling overly disturbed, I found I had a better appreciation for what actually happens in war and why. Readers will discover a personal understanding of the toll war takes on the foot soldiers, the men at the lowest end of the ranks, who are often taking the highest personal risk. If a reader is overly sensitive to scenes of realistic violence, this may be a book they want to skip.
I give this book 4 out of 4 stars. Dig or Die is a well-crafted tale that captures the imagination and holds the attention. This book will appeal to any readers who enjoy historical fiction with a high degree of accuracy and realistic, relatable characters.
Dig or Die
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