Monday, August 15, 2016

Non-fiction review: As I Saw it in the Trenches

I apologize for the lack of a cover photo--I'm on the road and my antique laptop wouldn't cooperate!

Title: As I Saw it in the Trenches: Memoir of a Doughboy in World War I
Author: Dae Hinson
Publisher: McFarland & Company, 2015. 177 pages.
Source: Library

This is the memoir of a WWI soldier, written down by him sometime in the years after the war, and discovered and transcribed by his nephew decades later. Hinson's goal seems simply to have been the accurate description of his WWI experiences. It is full of details about the war as he lived it.

This book reads very much as what it is: the account of a person who was not a professional writer, but a good observer and who obviously put a lot of effort into his narration. The editors have had the sense to leave it alone and not try to polish it up, and there are some places where errors slipped in or bits are missing, but the whole makes sense and it maintains the author's voice. The result is a very personal narrative and one that takes the reader right into the chaos of the First World War.

Hinson was just an ordinary young man, not particularly excited to be going to war, but also not willing to be slow to step up to do it (he enlisted as soon as the US entered the war). Because of how late the US was to the party (as it were) and the length of his training, Hinson in fact only spent a short time--a period of weeks as far as I could tell--on the front lines. The carnage he witnessed and the number of times he was nearly killed in those few weeks makes one wonder how any soldier came through that war alive and in his right mind. We will remember that while the US was in the war for less than a year, the whole thing went on for four years, and French, British, and Commonwealth soldiers were in France for that whole time. Some soldiers were there the whole time, on and off the front lines.

One of the things that most struck me about Hinson's account was not only the futility of their desperate and deadly efforts to capture some minor hill or single bunker, but the constant chaos. That chaos included a lack of any "bigger picture," and the sense you get from reading his account was that not only did the rank and file not know what they were doing or why, but most of the officers were in much the same state, just trying to carry out orders as they came through. Some of this confusion extended to the question of why they were there at all. Many Americans inevitably questioned the reasons why they had become involved in a war that seemed to most to be an issue for people far from their homes, and Hinson doesn't hesitate to share that doubt with the reader.

This is an unpolished, at times rough, narrative of one man's war-time experiences. If, like me, you are fascinated by this war that is so nearly forgotten 100 years later, it's an invaluable resource and I recommend reading it. I hope that I can find other similar documents from the men who were on the lines longer and perhaps had a greater stake in the outcome, because this book gives a sense of what it was like that no third-person account can provide.

FTC Disclosure: I checked As I Saw it in the Trenches out of my  library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."  

Our Final Summer Reading Sale:  For the month of August, Halitor the Hero is just 99 cents for the ebook!

Or purchase in the format of your choice from Smashwords.

Note: the author is aware of the irony of selling a book about a boy who wants to go fight at the end of a review about a boy who did go fight.

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