The Long Road Home: The Autobiography of a Canadian Soldier in Italy in World War II
Peter Henderson teaches history at Douglas College in New Westminster,
Although this book is autobiographical, it reads very much like fiction. This is because the author has chosen to include a great deal of dialogue of all kinds, including the exchanges between fighting men in the course of ferocious combat in the Italian campaign of World War II. This device has the advantage of allowing him to re-create the atmosphere and flavor of the actual happenings in a way that the more conventional style of sober reminiscences cannot convey.
His deep sincerity shows throughout the book. He captures well the feelings of the soldier experiencing the transition from totally raw recruit, at the book’s beginning, to the hardened veteran sergeant — one of the very few survivors of the original intake — whose hand-won competence in survival is evident at the end.
However, one does have to suspend the type of critical judgment one might normally apply to an autobiography that relies for its claim to value on the historical events witnessed or experienced by the author, rather than on examination of the personality and qualities of the author himself. The author’s personal development comes through — in fact, that is as much a theme of the book as the events that he witnesses — but the dramatic style of writing takes a little getting used to, if one is accustomed to memoirs that are heavier on objective historical facts.
This is essentially a human document, and it conveys the feeling of what it must have been like to have “been there,” both literally and figuratively. For anyone who wants a moving and honest account of how that generation of Canadian men grew up, and indeed of how any ordinary man develops into a seasoned soldier, this book should not be missed.