For a book about war, Point of No Return has an oddly gentle pace. It follows a US infantry battalion in northern Europe in the later stages of World War Two.
We see their privations and boredom, the cold, the harsh conditions and their camaraderie, alternating with bursts of battle and brutality. Soldiers are killed then replaced and the cycle begins again.
The main characters are Lt Col Smithers and his new driver, Jacob Levy. Smithers has almost mythical status among his men because he has never been wounded. Levy has been injured three times and hopes his proximity to Smithers will afford him some protection. Smithers, though young and from an ordinary background, has risen through his skill but the responsibility weighs on him as he is caught between his troops and the orders handed down from the faceless higher ranks.
Both Smithers and Levy dream of home and try to imagine a future after the war. They know that war has changed them, that they won’t be able to fit easily into their old life. Levy gives much of his time to daydreaming and falls in love with a woman in Luxembourg. Even though they lack a common language, he imagines she will share his plans for the future.
The end is jarring, deliberately so, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. There is an afterword from Martha Gellhorn where she says she wrote the book entirely for that ending and this somehow undermined my involvement in what I’d read before. Still, it’s an interesting and thought-provoking read and definitely worth a look.
I received a copy of Point of No Return from the publisher via Netgalley.
View Point of No Return on Goodreads
Enjoyed this? Take a look at Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy
I’ve never come across Martha Gellhorn’s fiction, before, only her war reportage. Presumably the publishers are reissuing it.
Yes, it’s been published by Open Road Media as an ebook, came out late last year (I’ve had the ARC for a long time, so apologies to them!).
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