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Source: Review copy from Julia Drake PR
Rating: ★★★★☆

They had passed many days pretending that their status as non-combatants, healers — men without guns — would somehow protect them from the enemy.  Surely, the Germans would respect the red crosses on the tents, trucks, helmets, and armbands.  Instead, during the night they had lost their collective virginity, and the reality of their new world scared the hell out of them.

(from None But the Brave, page 179)

None But the Brave follows a group of American surgeons, medics, and nurses from when they land in France as part of the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, through the liberation of a concentration camp in Germany and even into the post-World War II chaos.  Because Anthony A. Goodman is a general surgeon who served during the Vietnam War, he certainly is qualified to write about the experiences of medical professionals on the front lines, and this makes the book feel more authentic.

The novel is told primarily from three points of view, that of Steve Schneider, a surgeon who follows his friends into the Army as part of a volunteer surgical group, much to the disappointment of his wife; John Hammer, a.k.a. Hamm, a close friend of Steve’s who gives him the idea of joining up; and Meyer Berg, a Jewish doctor tasked with the impossible job of caring for the prisoners of a concentration camp who laments the fact that he did not heed his family’s pleas to leave Germany when he had the chance.  Other prominent characters include Molly Ferrarro, a WAC nurse, and Ted McClintock, an anesthesiologist and ladies’ man.

None But the Brave shows these surgeons, nurses, and medics in action…and in danger, despite their non-combatant status.  Goodman describes in detail the horrific wounds experienced by the GIs and the less than ideal conditions under which surgery was performed.  I didn’t feel that the story was bogged down by medical terminology — I actually found much of it fascinating — but it’s definitely not for readers with weak stomachs.  There’s nothing flowery about the writing, yet there is plenty of description to provide a sense of place and enable readers to bond with the characters on some level.  I think Goodman’s writing style works well for the fast pace, with the field hospitals being set up, broken down, moved, and set up again so many times as the front lines of the fight quickly change.

When Hamm finally makes it to the beach and the enormity of the invasion is understood, as they wade through hundreds and hundreds of bodies and parts of bodies, I nearly cried.  Goodman makes sure readers never forget that many of the fallen GIs were just boys who were never able to reach their potential.  It’s impossible to read this book and not feel deep sadness as well as respect for the brave men and women who served and died.  The fact that most of the casualties handled by the characters remain unnamed emphasizes the impossibility of keeping track of so many injured and dead and how the surgeons needed to keep things impersonal to some extent in order to cope.

There were so many scenes in this book that stood out to me, like the young French boy walking with the American soldiers with such pride, the Nazi collaborators dragged through the streets of Paris upon its liberation, and the first glimpse of the concentration camp and the realization of the evil done there.  Goodman accomplished so much with this novel, and it’s such a worthwhile read, even though it’s mentally draining and downright heartbreaking at times.

None But the Brave really brings home the point that one can be scared senseless yet extraordinarily brave.  Goodman shows their loneliness and their exhaustion, along with the huge difference they made.  The sacrifices of these men and women came at a cost, as even those who didn’t pay the ultimate price were changed forever.  The relationships they forged, their coping mechanisms, their grief and sorrow — Goodman portrays them all.  Highly recommended.

Check out this video series by Goodman; the first video explains his inspiration for None But the Brave.

Book 40 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received None But the Brave from Julia Drake PR for review.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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