Anatomy of a Soldier (★★★★☆)

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Harry Parker  *  Knopf  *  May 17, 2016  *  320 Pages

Advanced Reader Copy provided by Amazon Vine.

The entire book of Anatomy of a Soldier is written from the perspective of inanimate objects: a bag of fertilizer, a boot, a backpack, a mother’s purse, a surgeon’s saw. Each object gets its own, single chapter (there are no duplicates), and all of the chapters are connected. Together they form a story about soldier BA5799, a.k.a Tom Barnes.

Tom is a captain in the British armed forces, and he’s pretty good at his job. He’s not totally sure of himself, but he cares about his men, he cares about his mission. He’s a good leader. Unfortunately, his good luck in the field runs out, and he steps on the wrong patch of ground. Now he’s missing body parts. The story follows him in real time, struggling to survive, and it also gives backstory, showing the events that led to his current situation.

It’s hard to know how to describe this book. It’s unexpected, unsettling. When inanimate objects do the narrating, everything becomes an object–even humans, even pain. You get an eerie feeling when you’re reading, like people don’t matter. Not in a cruel way, but in an ambivalent “we are so small in this universe; our lives are so short” sort of way. And there’s no arguing with it, really, because, it’s true. In the grand scheme of things, we may be important to each other, but we aren’t actually important.

I like that this book made me feel something. It made me see the world and people and war in a different way, and I appreciate that. I do think I would have appreciated a bit more variety, since the “object narrator” gimmick, though effective, gets old about halfway through. But I still enjoyed reading Anatomy of a Soldier. Author Harry Parker has definitely brought something new to the table. I’ll be interested to see what he writes next.

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