“Melly was here.”
I cannot improve upon what the other reviewers have said. This is an exceptional novel, which, as they have noted, seems more a memoir than a work of fiction. The Amazon author page is blank for Mr. or Ms. Russo, but surely the author was a soldier.
Our Wild and Precious Lives deals with the big questions of Life, Death, Love and Loss set against a backdrop of WWII and the Korean Conflict, and as another reviewer has correctly noted, from many points of view, all handled perfectly.
More importantly, it also deals with the social upheaval in families and societies caused by war, on both sides: on the side of the victor and on the side of the vanquished. Our Wild and Precious Lives makes clear the considerable costs of war paid by the ordinary enlisted soldiers and their kin. It wrenchingly pulls back the covers and shows us the pain and anguish caused by ordinary people trying to “do the right thing.”
Sergeant Major Jim McCarron, a hard-working Irish American is the overbearing patriarch of a military family, married grudgingly to an Italian woman to fulfill a promise to his best friend, with two unwanted children. Those children are also casualties of the Second World War. There are extended families suffering, too, in Brooklyn and in a village near Naples.
For those teens and adults who were born after the 1960s, this novel will teach them history not learned in schools as a rule. It will teach them perspective. The novel also covers the tense years of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Readers will learn geography; some German sentences necessary for kids to get by in a foreign land, split into East and West; European architecture; and will find an abundance of cultural information about German society, Italian society and American society. Some of those American cultural beliefs are only revealed to the holders of same against the backdrop of minority status in a strange land. They will become familiar with General Patton and the social stratification in the army at that time.
This novel also fits the “coming of age” genre in that we meet the two teenage characters when they are fourteen and thirteen, but it regresses and progresses in time deftly. Teenage problems such as bullying, racism, dyslexia, parental abuse, feeling misunderstood are handled sensitively and well. The movies and popular music of the time features prominently in the many school dances, which were among the few social outlets available to Army “brats.”
Cimarron, based on an Edna Ferber story, was Melly’s favorite film. It has been described as starkly beautiful, wildly adventuresome, and grippingly dramatic. At its core is guilt, a war over land, and a family disrupted. I understand Melly’s point of view completely.
Leila Smith for The Kindle Book Review.
The Kindle Book Review received a free copy of this book for an independent, fair, and honest review. We are not associated with the author nor with Amazon.