3 out of 4 stars
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Kamel by Charles Haubner III tells the story of Kamel, a young French boy moving into adulthood. Tired of school, and possibly finding his first love, Kamel thinks of nothing but growing up and moving away from the small French town he has lived in his whole life. His only worry is how to tell his parents he does not want to inherit the family farm, and his great joy is his first hunting trip with his grandfather. Except for the occasional fighter planes flying a little too close, his life is largely unaffected by the raging war between Germany and the rest of the world.
All that changes when, as he and Grand-pere set off on their much anticipated trip, Kamel witnesses an atrocity that will change his life forever. The homestead is overrun by German troops and Kamel’s entire family is slaughtered. Now running for their lives, Kamel and Grand-pere find themselves in the middle of the Battle of Argonne, one of the longest and bloodiest battles of World War I. As they head for the supposed safety of Verdun, they come face to face with demons within and without, challenging old prejudices and finding unimaginable strength to survive. As they finally near their destination, they realize that the imagined safe haven of Verdun has become the heart of the battle. Whether or not they survive will depend on Kamel’s ability to become the man he never thought he would have to be.
I was enthralled by this story. Written as historical fiction, it depicts life for the average citizen caught up in the horror of war. The story is made even more meaningful because it is told by Kamel himself. At first we see through his child-like innocence: trying to contain his tears for his mother, clinging to the sandwich she made him for his hunting trip long after it has molded to the bottom of his bag. But as he finds himself faced with certain death time and again, we see Kamel grow from a frightened child into a man, hardening physically and emotionally. It is easy to forget he is just a child until the end, when he realizes that all he wants to do is go home again. This story will twist your heart with its beauty and horror intertwined.
While there were a few editing mistakes, it was often hard to tell if they were intentional or not. Since Kamel is telling the story, his dialogue is littered with French phrases. One repeated error was the capitalization of random nouns, which some European languages do as a rule. However, the author was not consistent in the habit; for example, sometimes he capitalizes “soldier” and sometimes he does not. Also, when transliterating German phrases, the author mixes German and English. For example, he quotes a German soldier saying, “Dis ist thems,” which is incorrect in both languages.
All in all, I give this book 3 out of 4 stars. I would have loved to give it 4 out of 4, but the grammar errors didn’t allow it. Anyone who loves historical fiction will enjoy this book. However, if you are not a fan of the genre, don’t let that stop you from reading it. The book is available only in PDF, but it is definitely worth the short time it will take to download and read it. Bring a tissue – you’ll need it!
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