Friday, May 01, 2009

Review on Killing Rommel

Steven Pressfield is a excellent writer of historical battle or war stories. I have enjoyed his Gates of Fire (battle of Thermopylae), The Afghan Campaign and The Virtues of War (Alexander the Great), Tides of War and the Last of the Amazons. One of the reasons why I find these novels so good reading is their historical accuracy - with a bit of literary license. Pressfield has done his research well and is able to weave facts and fiction seamlessly into his novels. His characters are three dimensional, giving depth to the historical battles he writes about.

In his latest novel, Killing Rommel (2009) which is released in the United Kingdom and yet to be released in the United States, Pressfield takes on the task on telling a story about the Second World War. I cannot post this review on yet.

Framed as the memoir of a British officer, R. Lawrence "Chap" Chapman, the book is based on an actual British plot to assassinate the "Desert Fox," German field marshal Erwin Rommel, during late 1942 and early 1943 in North Africa. The novel is based on historical war records on the war in North Africa and on Rommel who was a well documented military leader. The Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) of which Chapman was attached for the duration of the novel was also well documented as was The Desert Rats , the British 7th Armoured Division. These groups of special forces were sent behind enemies lines to create chaos during the North African campaign.

Pressfield tells the story well, impressing me with the idea that battles are often won or lost, not so much by good planning but rather by 'dumb' luck and the loyalty of soldiers for each other. Often soldiers have no idea what they were fighting for. Instead what drove them on is their loyalty for each other.

Aside from the camaraderie of soldiers, Pressfield also suggests that the British young men and women of that period (Chapman was an undergraduate in Oxford when he enlisted), through their education in British public schooling system, were able to face life and war with disdain. This is often known as the English 'stiff upper lips.' It was an attitude that after the boarding school experience, life cannot get worse. I am not sure how true that was but it is worth further thinking about. Pressfield often contrast this with the behavior of the German, New Zealand and American soldiers in this novel.

A jolly good book.

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