Soldier's Heart: Reading Literature through Peace and War at West Point
by Elizabeth D Samet
It has taken me a while to even decide to review this book. I received a copy from the publisher and, while I felt like I was obligated to review it, I hate that I have not one kind word for this book, and that I never finished it. About 2/3 of the way through, I gave myself dispensation from the torture of reading it.
Elizabeth Samet teaches English at West Point. She has held the position for 10 years. This book is about - well what I thought and what it says are two different things.
The book is difficult to read. There is no chronological or logical order to it. It skips from place to place and time to time and topic to topic without warning and sometimes without any logic. In fact, it can be very confusing and frustrating. It reads more like a diary than a book. She will talk about Fred or Harry or Sue, but she never tells you who they are or why their story is important. Like diary mentions which jog your memory, her characters are relevant to no one but her. When she does begin to develop any story, she seems to leave you with more questions than she answers.
In the first paragraph of the first chapeter:
"The firsties were in a reflective mood: later that month, news of the death of a very popular recent graduate, Emily Perez, would carry them for a time into the doldrums."
She never tells you any more. Who was Emily Perez? How did she die? Car Accident, Cancer, Murder, Slip and Fall, or Fallen in Battle. Well, Elizabeth Samet is not going to tell you. But, I will. Please read here to know about Emily Perez. That sentence is as developed and complete as any character will be, which both frustrated and bored me.
Had the structure of the book been readable, I probably could have overlooked the anti-war rhetoric that is thrown in. Like everything with this book, when it appears, it is meaningless and annoying and thrown in at inappropriate places. My assessment of Ms Samet's world view is that, while she teaches at West Point, she never sees a reason for the cadets to use their training. In fact, there seems to be an intended 'feminization' of the cadets and a disappointment in those who will not succumb. I felt a desire to mold the cadets in opposition to their purpose at the United States Military Academy. She seems to resent any religious expression, political expression, patriotism and will never understand the 'cult of sacrifice' she calls the unity of soldiers to one another. Needless to say, I disagree with her on every point.
The fly leaves are well written, and I was looking forward to reading it, but the book disappoints profoundly. Ms. Samet may well be an exceptional teacher, but she is not an exceptional writer. This was one of the worst reads I have ever had. Do NOT waste your time with this book.
(I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.)