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Articles of War
Reading Group Guide
With piercing honesty and mesmerizing prose, Articles of War echoes the best of classic war literature–a provocative novel that raises as many intense questions as it answers. In Nick Arvin’s luminous debut, the woods of northern France draw a young American soldier deep into the nightmares of combat at the height of World War II. Nicknamed Heck for his reluctance to swear, the drafted Iowan farm boy confronts a raw new world filled with booby traps, sniper fire, and confounding orders, culminating in a horrific assignment he has no choice but to carry out.
His tour of duty also leads him to a distraught French girl whose family is enduring the ravages of Nazi occupation. His moments with Claire are enough to captivate his dreams, even while his heart and mind are being forged into instruments more suitable for war. And in this landscape where nothing is what it seems, Heck quietly yields to the metamorphosis of all those who are called to fight, to suffer, and to face mortality at every turn.
This guide is designed to enhance your reading of Articles of War. We hope the following questions and topics will enrich your experience of this moving novel. For more information about the book, visit www.nickarvin.com. For guides to other great titles for reading groups, visit us at www.doubleday.com.
1. The epigraph from poet Marianne Moore broadens the conventional definition of war. What inward wars must Heck confront? What inward wars fuel the combat in which he is immersed?
2. “Articles of war” was the term once applied to laws and procedures established for American military personnel. What surprising rules, official and unofficial, does Heck encounter during the war? How do they compare to the code of conduct ingrained in him in Iowa?
3. What does Claire reveal about Heck’s true nature? What does she communicate to him, despite their language barrier? How does his concept of love compare to that of his fellow soldiers?
4. Heck’s involvement with Claire’s family reflects an important aspect of overseas warfare: interaction between divergent cultures, and between civilians and the military, under surreal circumstances. What is your understanding of Claire’s father and his perception of reality? Do his emotional wounds separate him from Heck, or do they provide common ground?
5. How does Heck define heroism and cowardice? By his own standards, is he a hero?
6. Discuss Heck’s early experience under fire. What was the essential cause of his separation from his unit, and his classification as AWOL? In what way do his injuries reflect his persona (harmed, but not severely enough to qualify for extensive care)? Does the Army ever yield an identity that feels natural to Heck?
7. When the Pennsylvanian becomes Heck’s foxhole mate, they discuss the possibility of desertion. Is the Pennsylvanian’s confidence irrational? How does his approach to fear compare to Conlee’s and Zeem’s? What determines a soldier’s concept of duty?
8. What literary devices does Nick Arvin use to create a unique depiction of war and warriors? How would you characterize Heck and his lack of camaraderie with his unit? In what way did his family history prepare him (or not prepare him) for battle?
9. Early on, Heck is told that fear is good because it assures him that he is alive. Does his concept of being alive change as he witnesses more carnage, including the death of several commanding officers? Though Heck survives physically, did he nonetheless lose pieces of his life?
10. Discuss the author’s choice of setting and timeline in Articles of War. How is Heck’s story shaped by his deployment to Normandy in the wake of D-Day, as opposed to being sent to another site of Nazi invasion or to the Pacific theater?
11. Conlee assigns Heck to the firing squad based on high scores as a marksman. Should there have been other prerequisites? What does the existence of the firing squad, paired with the draft, underscore about Heck’s tour of duty? Were those two institutions necessary for the Allies’ victory?
12. How were you affected by the knowledge that Eddie Slovik is not a fictional character? How is Heck affected by the limited biographical details he is given about Eddie?
13. Chapter eight begins with the line “Heck passed from the age war into the age of after the war befogged by unbelief.” Why does Heck choose to extend his stay in Europe, finding it unimaginable to face his father? Describe Heck’s transformation and how it was accomplished.
14. What predictions do you draw from the ending? At this point, would Heck respond differently to a child in need than in the first chapter, when he rushed to help Ives? How does Heck’s perception of Claire–and of hope in general–evolve throughout the novel?
15. How did Articles of War change your understanding of World War II? How did Heck’s journey compare to what you knew previously about veterans of that war?
16. What similarities and distinctions did you notice between U.S. troops serving during World War II and those currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan?
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