on June 14, 2012 :
The author gives life to a period of time I know very little about--World War II, the brave 48th Canadian Highlanders "boots on the ground" fighting force. When I finished "Dodging Shells" I was in awe of these men. I felt I had a glimmer of understanding about what they endured, although I would never claim to truly understand a warrior's experience.
The story is told through a series of letters from Tommy to his twin sister back in Canada, "Kath." The very first letter starts off with a bang as Tommy informs his sister he's been shot. He goes on to request some knitted doodad he can use as a battle decoration for his shirt, since he's pretty sure he won't get an official award. Throughout the book, I felt that Tommy's concern was for his sister. He wrote this way to lighten the mood, to calm her fears for him, to give her hope for him. Though he was the one in constant danger, he worried for her, safely at home.
Tommy's tongue-in-cheek humor never, ever fails in this book, a book I would describe as profound and hilarious, first hand insight into what it was like to be on the ground, involved dead center in this war, day and night, night and day, summer and winter. Even when Tommy is being shot at, he never loses his sense of humor. The reader is right there with him on every page, running, marching, drenched, cold, hot and wounded. Even as he dodges exploding German shells, Tommy makes jokes. He sees everything, every experience, as an adventure, and I learned a lot from this attitude about "perspective." Because every now and then, just enough to vividly portray the dichotomy of it all, through the humor, through the jokes and wine guzzling, the ogling of beautiful women and the primitive conditions, even as Tommy and his comrades march, fight, drink, dig holes and dodge shells, here and there are brief interjections which bring reality home: for instance, of using swollen corpses to support gun barrels and aim with accuracy, and brothers-in-arms with limbs or even entire torsos shot away. War is no fun, but humor can help you keep your sanity.
Tommy is an engaging, merry, witty man, a true "sympathetic protagonist" readers can easily fall a little in love with. He's brave, reckless, and very human.
An all around great read.
(reviewed 4 months after purchase)
on May 25, 2012 :
There will probably never be a better war story than All Quiet on the Western Front, but Dodging Shells deserves to be on the same shelf. Ms. Bertsch has produced an extraordinary piece of work with this WWII tale told as a series of letters from a Canadian soldier to his twin sister. It’s a poignant, funny, honest and brilliant way to tell the story of the author’s father’s experiences as he and his Canadian comrades in arms fought their way from Sicily to northern Italy. Sometimes Corporal, sometimes Private Tommy Smith had a checkered military career fraught with chronic hunger, discomfort, disasters and constant danger which he candidly shares with sis. This isn’t just a war story, it’s a human story, and a world class piece of literature.
(reviewed 2 days after purchase)
on Oct. 19, 2011 :
There have been few occasions when I have envied the ability of the author of the book I am reviewing — actual, green-eyed, spitting envy. Dodging Shells has effortlessly claimed top place in that group and has motivated me to try harder in my own writing. I freely admit I can offer no constructive criticism for improvement.
The first chapter, or letter, is brilliantly written; descriptive, graphic, honing the reader’s interest with consummate skill in the manner in which our scribe makes himself known to us; self-deprecating, wry, humorous, imbued with an independent spirit and possessor of all the human faults and virtues that the we expect in our literary heroes. With the background of wartime Italy and the allies’ dogged advance up the boot the author has truly captured the essence of those difficult times, and Canada’s contribution, of almost seventy years ago, with a realism and skill that makes for a absolute pearl of a read.
Robert Davidson. The Tuzla Run
(reviewed the day of purchase)