The Reunion

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Berezina by J.E. van Embden

“People don’t want to know about the death and suffering. The wan to remember La Gloire – the magnificent uniforms, the great victories, the famous campaigns…people prefer the myth to the reality.”
Field Marshall Claude Victor, in Berezina

A few nights ago, as I flew back to the United States, Braveheart was one of the movies available to entertain us during the eighteen hour trip. I only watched a small part of it, but in that small part, I saw Sir William Wallace lead his rag-tag band of Scots against the English army. I watched as they cut and slashed and hammered at the English. I watched as the English fell, and I wanted to stand and cheer the Scots on to victory. How I wished I had been there with them!

This feeling is exactly what Marshall Victor was describing. It made no difference that men were suffering and dying, that husbands and fathers and sons would never return home. It was a glorious battle!

Berezina chronicles the death and suffering of war primarily through the eyes of Major Spijker, a Dutch soldier, Captain Kral, a German, Marshall Victor, and Major Demelle, both French, all of whom served Napoleon Bonaparte in his wars, specifically on his march into and his retreat from Russia. We see nobility and sacrifice. We see men who do their duty, who risk their lives. We see those who seek money and fame. We see those who are afraid. We see death, and we see life.

As Marshall Victor said, we all want to remember the glory of war. Berezina shows us the other side.

Berezina is exceptionally well-written. Even though I knew, in general, how the story must end since the outcome is familiar to all who have studied the history of Europe, my attention never lapsed. The author had me concentrate, not on the great events that were occurring, but on the individual soldiers who played parts in the outcome. The people come alive in the story, and I almost forgot that I was reading historical fiction, and I hoped for a better conclusion that the one that had to occur. This is high praise for a book of this genre. An excellent book! Five stars!