A Soldier of the Great War

Reading Mark Helprin keeps me off balanced.  I never know what direction he will take.  His stories are intriguing, engrossing and provocative.  I’m beginning my final lap of the 860 page marathon called Soldier of the Great War.  So many quotes are 80% good chewing, with some stray bone which I just can’t swallow.  [I find this a common experience when reading Jewish authors.]  One clause of a sentence Helprin is on solid ground; before it’s finished, though, he’s out on the skinny branches.   I keep on reading because I want to and because Helprin makes me see beauty, God, relationships, art — in other words, life — from a different perspective.

        “I never took my religious instruction seriously,” Alessandro told them, “because it was delivered in the language of reason.  I asked everyone you can imagine, from the nuns when I was a child, to bishops, philosophers, and theologians later on, why do you speak of God in the language of reason?  And they said it was because God has burdened those who believe in Him with the inability to prove His existence except in the language of His enemies, which is a language in which you cannot prove His existence.  Why bother? I asked.  Their answers showed me that they believe in God no more strongly than you do.  Can you see a group of people on a beach in a storm, deafened by the surf, their hair blown back from their foreheads, their eyes tearing, trying to prove the existence of the wind and the sea?

          “I want nothing more than what I have, for what I have is enough.  I’m grateful for it.  I foresee no reward, no eternal life.  I expect only to leave further pieces of my heart in one place or another, but I love God nonetheless, with every atom of my being, and will love Him until I fall into black oblivion.”

          “You’re grateful for what you have?” they asked, their lips curling into bitter smiles.  The leader said, “You’re a piece of sh** in a dungeon.  You live on potatoes and salt, and you’re a servant to the dying scum of a dying world.  For this you’re grateful?”

          Alessandro thought for a moment, and then he said, “Yes.”


          “I know what I was, what I had, what I lack.”


2 thoughts on “A Soldier of the Great War

  1. Alessandro reminds me of a time when I experimented with several religions- but never atheism: Because I knew I didn’t create the sky.  I wonder if I can access that part of me again to reach my “artsy” #1 daughter?

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