An Innocent Soldier
Translated by Michael Hoffman
Ages 14 and up
Scholastic, 2005, 0-439-62771-0
Adam can hardly believe what is happening to him when the farmer he works for enlists him in the army. Suddenly Adam is having to use the farmer’s son’s name – which he does not understand - and his life is completely different. Adam quickly learns that he is now a part of Napoleon’s Grande Armee and he is destined, along with thousands of other young men from all over Europe, to go to Russian to fight against the Czar’s troops. Thankfully, not long after being signed up, Adam is chosen to be the servant of a young officer, Lieutenant Count Lammersdorf. Adam quickly discovers that this young aristocrat is even less equipped to be a soldier than he is. Together the two men do their best to survive the rigors of the long march from Germany to Russia.
In a surprisingly short period of time the columns of men and their horses are starving. The supply wagons are days behind and the soldiers are having to loot and pillage as they go just to have enough food to survive. Adam and his master struggle on until the count gets horribly ill. Now Adam knows that he is going to have to do something drastic to get his master something decent to eat and drink.
As the two young men walk their way north, a very special kind of friendship develops between them. Though Adam is an uneducated orphaned farm hand, and though Count Konrad Klara has never known hardship until now, the two of them stick together, help one another, and rage at the stupidity and uselessness of the war that they are having to participate in. Surrounded by misery, death, and hopelessness, Adam and Konrad forge a relationship so close that it is as if they are brothers, brothers who are determined to get home in spite of everything.
This incredibly powerful novel paints a very grim picture of what it was like to be a soldier in Napoleon’s Grande Armee. Horrible loss of life and confusion was the norm and many of the men involved felt that their cause was a hopeless one. They were sure that this time Napoleon had bitten off way more than he could chew - and they were right. Josef Holub completely dispels the myths about war, showing his readers how terrible it is, how cruel, and how – in this case – pointless it often is. The warmth of Adam and Konrad’s friendship and the adventures they share as they try to survive are a perfect foil to the scenes of horror that the two young men witness. Their friendship is like a flower floating in a sea of blood stained mud.
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