- Used Books
- Staff Picks
- Gifts & Gift Cards
- Sell Books
- Stores & Events
- Let's Talk Books
Special Offers see all
More at Powell's
Recently Viewed clear list
This item may be
Check for Availability
Peaceby Richard Bausch
Synopses & Reviews
From the prize-winning novelist and world-renowned short story writer, recipient of the PEN/Malamud Award and the Academy Award from the Academy of Arts and Letters, a powerful novel about war, trust, and salvation that begs to be read in a single sitting.
Italy, near Cassino. The terrible winter of 1944. A dismal icy rain, continuing unabated for days. Guided by a seventy-year-old Italian man in rope-soled shoes, three American soldiers are sent on a reconnaissance mission up the side of a steep hill that they discover, before very long, to be a mountain. And the old man's indeterminate loyalties only add to the terror and confusion that engulf them on that mountain, where they are confronted with the horror of their own time — and then set upon by a sniper.
Taut and propulsive — with its spare language, its punishing landscape, and the keenly drawn portraits of the three young soldiers at its center — Peace is a feat of economy, compression, and imagination, a brutal and unmistakably contemporary meditation on the corrosiveness of violence, the human cost of war, and the redemptive power of mercy.
"Richard Bausch is best known as a master of the short story. And 'Peace' is so short and tightly packed that it reads more like an extended short story than a novel. It's a fable about war and redemption, an episode more than a full narrative. Bausch draws his characters with deft strokes and dashes of color, rather than in the rich tapestry of longer fiction. If a novel can be said to create its... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) own world, this one evokes a world that's already in our heads. The images are allusive, fleeting, not quite explained. 'Peace' centers on a long night in the Monte Cassino area of Italy during the bloody campaign of the winter of 1944. The book opens with a moment of sadistic violence: Sgt. John Glick, the platoon leader, shoots an Italian prostitute who has been with a German soldier who killed two of Glick's men. The innocent woman's death haunts the characters for the rest of book as they debate whether to report the sergeant's act as murder or accept it as part of the random violence of war. The central character of 'Peace' is Cpl. Robert Marson. He's a baseball-playing, God-fearing American boy who finds himself 'alone in the waste of war' and is trying to make his way. He's sick, physically and emotionally, too. 'A flatness had settled into his spirit, a dead feeling at the heart,' writes Bausch. One of his feet has a blister that has become infected, so that the very act of marching forward is excruciating, but he goes on anyway, as the opening line foretells. Marson leads a squad of two other soldiers, Benny Joyner and Saul Asch, up a mountain during a snowstorm. The purpose of their mission isn't clear, even to Marson, but the general idea is to see what's on the other side of the hill. With them is an old Italian man named Angelo, treading the snow in frail rope-soled shoes. He promises to be their guide, but Joyner thinks he may be a Fascist spy. They trudge uphill, encountering a dead German soldier and a sniper as they become ever more fatigued and lost. They hear noises that may be a Nazi firing squad executing Jewish villagers over the ridge, but they don't really know what the sounds are, and they can't do anything about them. We're in the snow of war in this novel, a snow that obscures where we're going and where we've been, that makes it impossible to distinguish friend from foe, and yet the soldiers keep climbing. When one of Marson's men is shot, he sends the others back and continues alone into the hallucinatory center of the book. Getting lost in the snow of Bausch's Monte Cassino campaign is like being lost in the big muddy in Vietnam or in the red-hot griddle of Baghdad. You're not sure why you're there or how to get out. 'You marched into the tide of war and arrived nowhere,' says the narrator. The characters aren't sure what choices are moral or immoral amid the brutalization. This is a book about the 'good war' against the Nazis, yet it will seem to many readers to resonate with the 'bad war' of Iraq. And in that sense, it rightly makes the tidy definitions of good and bad seem misconceived. Marson is trying to do what is right, and to understand what that means. That tension is resolved at the end of the book in a denouement that seemed to this reader too neat and quick for the book's ambition. The author might answer: That's the way it really happened. For there are hints that the novel is built around a true story told to Bausch by his father, who 'served bravely in Africa, Sicily, and Italy,' according to the book's dedication. Bausch has an artisan writer's fine gift for language, and the imagery of 'Peace' is powerful and persistent. But there is not enough space in the book for the characters to fully unpack, and for readers whose idea of a war novel is the 600 dense pages of Denis Johnson's 'Tree of Smoke,' which invents a language and landscape for the Vietnam War, this book may seem too spare and stinting. In a preface to a 2004 collection of his stories, Bausch said that writing a novel is a question of 'staying with it and working it over until it is right, and complete — all emotions earned, all strands of interest played out, everything resonating as it should, everything as lucid as it can be made without doing violence to the demands of the story.' By contrast, he said, a short story is 'the world in miniature.' This book is somewhere in between the two forms — a novella would be the proper term, I guess. That's an awkward length, too long for the diamond solitaire of a story; too short for the jewel box of a novel. The problem is that the themes of 'Peace' are just too big for the spare package Bausch has chosen. It's a powerful tale, well told by one of America's gifted writers, but it reads like a prologue to the larger story that would encompass the world of war he sketches here. David Ignatius is a columnist for The Washington Post and the author of six novels. His most recent book, 'Body of Lies,' will appear as a movie this fall." Reviewed by David Ignatius, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"Bausch is best known for his short stories, but this powerful novella demonstrates his skill at spare language and tight construction." Library Journal
"Every single word of Richard Bausch’s beautiful, spare new novel Peace rings darkly, tragically true." Richard Russo
"Richard Bausch’s Peace, set at the end of the Second World War in Italy, is a small masterpiece with the same emotional force and moral complexity as Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Tolstoy’s Hadji Murad." Colm Tóibín
"The experiences of battle fatigue and constant exposure to mortal danger are depicted with raw immediacy and terse power in this short novel...." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"Bausch's tale of one act in the immense blood-dark theater of military conflict is razor-sharp, sorrowfully poetic, and steeped in the wretched absurdity of war, the dream of peace." Booklist (Starred Review)
"In the small firmament of American writers who're both superb novelists and eloquent short-story practitioners, Richard Bausch's star shines more brightly now than ever." Richard Ford
Taut and propulsive, Peace is a feat of economy, compression, and imagination, an unmistakably contemporary commentary on the corrosiveness of violence and the human cost of war.
About the Author
This is Richard Bausch's eleventh novel. He is also the author of seven volumes of short stories. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, Playboy, GQ, Harper’s Magazine, and other publications and has been featured in numerous best-of collections, including The O. Henry Prize Stories, Best American Short Stories, and New Stories from the South. He is chancellor of the Fellowship of Southern Writers and lives in Memphis, Tennessee, where he is Moss Chair of Excellence in the Writer's Workshop of the University of Memphis.
What Our Readers Are Saying