Thursday, January 9, 2014
Gary Paulsen based Soldier's Heart on the war-time experiences of Charley Goddard, who enlisted in the First Minnesota Volunteers when he was 15, lying about his age. He fought through almost the entire war. His letters home left a record that Paulsen put to good use,in this, what Paulsen calls "partly a work of fiction."
After one battle...
"You're hit." A corporal stood in front of Charley.
"No. I'm all right."
"You're hit there, in the shoulder."
Charley looked down. He was covered in blood, his arm and chest and pants wet with it...
"The surgeon's tent is back there a half mile..."
(Charley slogs over to the tent.)
"Let's see how bad you're hurt."
Charley unbuttoned his greatcoat, then his uniform jacket, and his flannel shirt.
"Let's see..." The attendant held the lantern up, pulled the shirt away and looked down the front and back. "Hell, boy, you ain't hit."
"Not a scratch. That's other men's blood all over you."
"You can go back."
"Not yet." A doctor came out of the tent. "I need help here. The wind is making up and the cold is freezing my hands. I need some kind of windbreak -- see if the two of you can't fix something up."
"With what?" The attendant looked around. "There's nothing here."
The doctor looked around, then back, then at the bodies.
"They won't feel it. You" - he pointed a bloody hand at Charley -- give him help there. Pile them up to stop the wind from the side of the tent."
And so they did. Each taking an end, they moved the bodies, stacking them like bricks and angling them at the corners so they would not tip over, until they had a stout frozen wall five feet high and thirty feet long to stop the wind.
When it was done Charley lay on the ground in the lee of the dead man's wall, just to get out of the wind for a minute and get warm, and slept there for five hours, sheltered by the dead.
A reviewer at amazon.com wrote that this small masterpiece transcends any of his (Gary Paulsen's) earlier titles in its remarkable, memorable intensity and power.
It is intense. And powerful.
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