Synopses & Reviews
Georgia, 1898: On what may be the last day of his life, Captain Frederick Benteen the man who saved portions of Custer's Seventh Cavalry from almost certain death at Little Bighorn receives a letter from an ambitious boy offering to "restore" his reputation. Over the twenty-three long years since that battle, watching Custer's legend grow, Benteen has brooded silently on the past. His General has been dead for more than twenty years, killed in action, considered a hero, while the public has never forgiven Benteen for surviving. Now, at last, he begins to put down some account of those two horrific days pinned down on a ridge. What follows is an exquisite eulogy for his fellow soldiers, both alive and dead, as Benteen refuses to bow to the demands of legend.
As he begins to write, Benteen finds himself haunted by his lost companions: by Star-Gazer, who joined the army to write poems; mysterious Handsome Jack, who plays the banjo and founded the Grand Order of the Grapefruit together they form a strange double act, a frontier Rosencrantz and Guildenstern; De Rudio, the gentle German bugler; Young Tom, who stands in his brother Custer's shadow; whimsical Pritzker trapped in dreams; and the Choir, a host of often shocking misfits who hover at the edges of the action.
As Benteen mines deeper into the past, he struggles to untangle his own story, his own worth, from the grand narrative of history. Insistently, he finds himself drawn to the fleeting memories of the "nine-tenths nothing" that make up battle scraps of men's speech, notes from Star-Gazer's enigmatic journal, jokes, lost thoughts, moments of great beauty and casual violence. Gradually the reader realizes that what Benteen is struggling to recapture, to remember, is a different America, before it began to play out its own history as spectacle, over and over again as anticipated by that consummate performer, Custer.
As poignant and elegaic as the writing is, it is simultaneously a very funny novel, as when Benteen recalls meeting a nun in New York: she tells him how the monks used to piss in the molten stained glass to achieve a certain milky yellow colour. After this anecdote: "That one thought changed the whole of Europe for him."
Told over the space of a single morning, The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers is about death and dying, women and war, growing old, parenthood, friendship, and soldierliness. It is about a nation's preoccupation with celebrity, and what, in the end, a life is worth.
"A sparkling gem of a book, shining as brightly as a bead of dew on prairie grass." The Weekend Australian
"The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers is an intensely quotable book....Prose like this has the elliptical quality of poetry." Sydney Morning Herald
"The brilliance of Falconers' writing...comes through in the sheer relentless and sensuous intensity of her description." Stephanie Bishop, University of Cambridge
"Falconer's style remains distinctive....The Lost Thoughts Of Soldiers is a book best read slowly because there is so much to savour in every line." The Program
"Unfolding over the course of a single morning, The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers is a meditation on memory and the passage of time. But it's not as ponderous or dense as classics in this vein written by Proust, Joyce or Robert Musil....As I read The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers, I was struck by the notion of how much work must have gone into each sentence. There isn't a wasted moment anywhere, and I imagine there are legions of writers who would give their right arm to be able to express in a page what Falconer manages to do in a single phrase or turn of expression." Gerry Donaghy, Powells.com (read the entire Powells.com review)
Georgia, 1898: On what may be the last day of his life, Captain Frederick Benteen the man who saved Custers Seventh Cavalry from almost certain death at Little Bighorn receives a letter from an ambitious boy offering to restore” his reputation. For over 23 years Benteen has silently watched Custers legend grow. His General has been dead for more than 20 years, killed in action, considered a hero, while the public has never forgiven Benteen for surviving. Now, at last, he begins to put down some account of those two horrific days pinned down on a ridge. What follows is an exquisite eulogy for his fellow soldiers, both alive and dead. Funny, moving, rich in character and incident, this acclaimed novel avoids the bloody battle scenes and maudlin romance that characterize much Civil War-based fiction in favor of an unsparing and poetic story that explores what it means to be a soldier then and now.
About the Author
Delia Falconer holds a Ph.D. in English literature and cultural studies from the University of Melbourne. In 2003 she was a James Joyce Fellow in Dublin, Trieste, and Beijing. Falconer's essays and stories have been anthologised widely in many publications, including Best Australian Essays (1998, 1999, 2003) and Best Australian Stories (1999, 2002); Oxford Australian Love Stories; Penguin Best Australian Short Stories; and The Penguin Century of Australian Short Stories. Her work as an essayist and critic has been sought out by international journals and digests such as nest, Arts and Letters Daily, Landfall, and Courrier International.