Cross of Iron – Willi Heinrich

This is not a YA book, but I’m posting the full review here… because I’m a BAMF.

Synopsis from Goodreads.
CROSS OF IRON is the thrilling story of a German platoon cut off far behind Russian lines in the second half of World War II. A resourceful and cynical commander somehow manages to coax his men through the bitter hand-to-hand fighting in forests, trenches and city streets until eventually they regain the German lines. But safety is only temporary. After the tension of waiting for the last overwhelming Russian advance the platoon is forced into futile counter-attacks and murderous house-to-house fighting until its final decimation becomes inevitable. A modern classic of war fiction both as a book and a film, this is a strikingly realistic story of action on the Eastern Front, where the grimness of combat seems to have neither pity nor end.

“We’re all the same here, he told himself; a handful of life trying to preserve itself like the candle light in the bunkers, a bundle of duties in uniform, feeling and thinking like human beings, but trained to act like automatons.”

Well, I honestly don’t know what to say about this book.
To say reading it was a bit of a slog would be doing it a great disservice and one that would be unfair.
So, because I’m a crazy kid and whatnot, I’m going to split this book into two.
Not the review.
No no.
The actual book.

And the first book I will be reviewing will be known as Cross of Iron: The Book Jo Disliked. (TBJD)
The second book I will be reviewing will be known as Cross of Iron: The Book Jo Liked. (TBJL)

Because this book made me feel conflicted something rotten.

I’m going to start with TBJD.
I remember this conversation I had with my friend about protagonists and how I didn’t mind if they were a bit… unsavoury. Some of my favourite protagonists are, in fact, mental psychopaths.
And I stand by my decision. I like my main characters with a bit of edge, I like them to have flaws and I like them to be a bit prickly.
But this book really took that to a whole new level though. I think out of all the men in this book I liked about three of them. And they were hardly in it or at least not for long!
Steiner was a really interesting and complex character but I found him often to be too callous, too calculating and unnecessarily cruel. Saying that though, I did like the parts where this book was told from his perspective the best.
Also, and this isn’t really fair because it has nothing to do with the story itself, but my gosh whoever translated this book needs to pull up their socks.
Unless it’s just the fact that Mr Heinrich really wanted stilted dialogue and I’m just not with it. Then I apologise.
And the word “grinned” often used where I have the feeling Mr Heinrich probably meant “grimanced”. Or at least I hope so. It makes an alarming difference when men are grinning when they are being insulted and/or seeing their comrades being killed next to them.
And while I’m having a bit of a rant… when another person starts talking in a conversation you start a new paragraph.
For the love of all things literary!
There were huge chunks of this book where I didn’t have the foggiest as to who was saying what because all of the dialogue was shoved into one paragraph and they were all grinning and gah.

Moving on to my next review for TBJL.
The beginning of this book was infinitely better than the second half. As Steiner and his men journey through the depths of the Russian forests the setting is so impeccably realised that you can almost hear every single pine cone being trodden on.
I really loved the conversations and banter between the men. It felt silly, yet frighteningly honest. I’m still laughing about Funder and his cologne.
And even though I didn’t particularly like any of the characters, I loved them as a whole. Their relationships, petty arguments and their intelligent, almost philosophical, conversations about their life all felt extremely authentic.
Also, I can completely see how Mr Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds was influenced by this story (or the film at least) because Stranksy and Landa are definitely cut from the same evil-man cloth.
I have to admit that my notes (and my attention span) dwindled at around page 300 and I ended up skimming the last 100 pages or so.
Until, that is, the end chapter which blew my mind, broke my heart, and other metaphors that haven’t even been invented yet. Wow, just wow.

Extremely haunting.

This review is part of my Poppies & Prose feature. You can find out more here.

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