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Articles of War

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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?

Product Details

ISBN:
9780385512770
Publisher:
Random House
Subject:
General
Author:
Arvin, Nick
Subject:
World war, 1939-1945
Subject:
Historical - General
Subject:
Americans
Subject:
War & Military
Publication Date:
February 2005
Binding:
Hardcover
Language:
English
Pages:
192
Dimensions:
7.60x5.26x.70 in. .59 lbs.

Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

Articles of War
0 stars - 0 reviews
$ In Stock
Product details 192 pages Doubleday Books - English 9780385512770 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "This fierce, compact tale of one grunt's war takes readers to the same time and place — the woods of northern France in 1944 — where Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim was captured by the Germans. George Tilson, aka Heck, is another awkward, uncertain American 18-year-old mobilized from America's heartland to the European theater. Disembarked in Normandy, he meets a struggling French family: a one-armed painter; his daughter, Claire; and son, Ives. Claire nearly takes Heck's virginity, but he fumbles her seduction in a fit of fear. He's then trucked off to battle, where he experiences real panic under bombardment: 'The noise was like nothing he had ever experienced before, a noise such as might be used to herald the beginning of a terrible new world.' Heck is halfway through his nightmarish advance through a forest peppered with German snipers and booby traps before he fires his gun in anger, and that's only to kill the company dog. His second shot comes when his company sergeant, Conlee, an ex-foxhole mate and one of many to mark Heck as a coward, enlists him in an unexplained but horrifying mission. Arvin's first novel is an elegant, understated testament to the stoicism, accidental cowardice and occasional heroics of men under fire. Agent, Eric Simonoff. Forecast: Some readers may feel this subject matter has been exploited too often to yield anything fresh, but those looking for quality war fiction will be amply rewarded. " Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "Nick Arvin's debut novel, Articles of War, relates Heck's story in bare-bones prose, and it is more concerned with posing questions about bravery and violence than creating a vivid depiction of scene. Arvin's writing does occasionally veer from the cool and collected to the more purple kind....But at its existential best, Articles of War makes you wonder how you would handle yourself in a ditch, surrounded by snipers, and under orders to kill." (read the entire Esquire review)
"Review" by , "Breathtakingly fine. Resonate in tone, surprising—as the landscape of human emotion should be surprising — eviscerating in its honesty, faceted in its complexity. Nick Arvin has accomplished what only a handful of writers have managed — he has crafted a spare and perfect masterwork."
"Review" by , "A vividly told first novel....Though stretching credibility at times, Arvin makes a worthy and felt addition to retrospective WWII fiction."
"Review" by , "Arvin's understated prose shows the dreadful consequences of even a 'good war' in this accomplished and timely literary debut."
"Synopsis" by , This short, spare, and hypnotic novel tells of an Iowa farm boy who enlists in the Army during World War II and is sent to Normandy shortly after D-Day.
"Synopsis" by , Capturing the reality of war with a fidelity and power that echoes the best of classic war writing, this haunting novel brings to life the terrors of a young soldier in shocking, almost hallucinatory detail.

George Tilson is an eighteen-year-old Iowan farm boy who enlists in the army during World War II and is sent to Normandy shortly after D-Day. Nicknamed Heck because of his reluctance to curse, he is a typical soldier, willing to do his duty without fuss or much musing about grand goals. The night before he is trucked into the combat zone, Heck meets a young French refugee and her family, an encounter that unsettles him greatly.

It is during his first, horrific exposure to combat that Heck discovers a dark truth about himself: He is a coward. Shamed by his fears and tortured by the never-ending physical dangers around him, he struggles to survive, to live up to the ideal of the American fighting man, and to make sense of his feelings for the young French woman. As the stark reality of combat--the knowledge that he could cease to exist at any moment--presses in on him, Heck makes a series of choices that would be rational in every human situation except war.

With remorseless, hypnotic clarity, Arvin draws readers into the unimaginable fear, violence, and chaos of the war zone. Arvin layers profound meaning within a brilliantly executed minimalist style. His portrayal of the emotional and physical terrors Heck can neither understand nor escape is one of the most disturbing and unforgettable accounts of the life of a soldier ever written.

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