This short novel was published in 1987 and won the National Book Award. Larry Heineman tells us in this 2002 introduction to the book is that he wanted to tell a story that is as much about story telling as the story itself. This happens a lot in war novels, and especially in Vietnam novels and books like Tim O’Brien’s If I Die in a Combat Zone Box Me Up and Ship me Home and The Things they Carried. I think part of this comes from how eventless the Vietnam War was in the ways that WWII was most definitely not. I don’t mean events didn’t happen, but both the Civil War and WWII are so filled with event and plot, that they’re almost scripted, and of course the sheer amount of movies, histories, and novels about those wars speaks to that.
So this novel is written as if you’re an active listener being told a story. For the purposes of this story, your name is James.
In the novel, Alpha Company is ambushed, and Paco is horrendously injured. He almost doesn’t make it, and in fact they don’t think he will. But he does, and his subsqequnt life after the injury get narrated here in close-detail and harrowing description. There’s a small sense that this story is standing in for all stories as well.
Apparently this book doesn’t exist in English, even though I read it in English. I think that’s because this book is one section of a longer trio of contemporary biographies that Stefan Zweig wrote, and not a book on its own.
This book was published in 1940 or so, and came out while Frued was still alive, but presumably before Frued fled Austria after the annexation by Germany during WWII (and of course, fleeing the Holocaust as well).
The book is an effusive and enthusiastic celebration of what Zweig considers Freud’s greatest achievement to be, the bringing forth of the invisible forces of the mental world that have been actively suppressed by 19th century life. For Zweig, especially in his presentation of Freud’s forebears, the idea that actively suppressing human urges (for our purposes — sexuality) deeply influences human behavior was an emerging idea that Freud took hold of and made almost second nature to his understanding of the world. He took something known, and made it obvious. I wonder how that’s shifted, as we have shifted away from the total hold that Freud had over psychology for decades (maybe to theories of trauma?), but what’s most interesting about this little book is how Zweig is writing this while Frued was still actively creating it, even though it’s late in his career.
I Hold a Wolf by the Ears