Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Soldier Of The Great War, by Mark Helprin

After I followed Terry Teachout's link to John Updike's six rules for book reviewing, then encountered a similarly impressed Wyatt Mason, I vowed I'd work harder at Rule #2. Here, then, is a bit from A Soldier Of The Great War, by Mark Helprin:

"He had gathered the boy in his arms, and he was bathed in his blood, but he held him the way you would hold a baby, and he cried, and he talked to him until he died.

"'I can't see,' the boy said. 'I can't see.' That was the only time that Father Michele quoted the Bible to him. He said, 'Like ... a swallow ... mine eyes fail with looking upward.' The soldier was dying quickly. His soul was halfway to another place.

"The priest said, 'Where you are going there is no fear and there is no dying. Your mother and your father will be there. They'll hold you like a baby. They'll stroke your head, and you'll sleep in their arms, in bliss.'

"'I wish it would be so,' the boy said.

"'It will be so,' Father Michele answered, and he repeated it again and again, 'It will be so, it will be so,' until the boy died.

"Afterward, when he was clean, I approached Father Michele and asked if he believed what he had said. 'No,' he told me, 'but I was praying to God to make it that way.'

"'Aren't you supposed to shut up and expect certain things -- blackness if you're an atheist; overwhelming light if you believe?'

"'I suppose one is,' he answered, 'but I took the risk of telling God to His face that He had faltered in the design, that the boy who died today was not in need of splendor, but only of his mother and father. Perhaps I'm a heretic, but I'll deal with that after the war.'"


Gideon Strauss said...

I used to be very, very fond of Helprin, but my literary taste has turned towards sparser writing.

ジョエル said...

interesting link. I'm guilty of breaking a lot of those rules myself. I'll try and do better on #2 in the future as well.