Sunday, October 20, 2013

Three Short Stories About War from Around the World

Story Collection: World Literature: An Anthology of Great Short Stories, Drama, and Poetry
Editor: Donna Rosenberg

Title: One Soldier
Author: Katai Tayama
Translator: Jai Ratan

This story is more or less a one-man death march, and the soldier it focuses on could be anyone. He's Japanese, fighting against Russia in the Russo-Japanese War, but the details of the war don't matter. All we see is him, leaving a military hospital prematurely because he can't stand to be there anymore, and trying to catch up with the other soldiers in his company. He realizes, while marching through the countryside, that he's still sick with beriberi, a horrible condition brought about by thiamine deficiency. He thinks about the glorious ideas that made him eager to participate in the war, and the possibility of dying from cardiac arrest after straining to walk for miles with beriberi. Or, even if he survives, the thought that he'll be trapped anyway, gunned down somewhere. War is a giant trap, and every moment he's alive he's in pain. The heart of the story is his terrible cry: "This pain, this pain, this pain!"

Title: The Soldier
Author: Krishan Chandar
Translator: (Info not provided)

Shortly after the end of World War II, a Pakistani soldier returns to his village. He wishes with everything in him that life will continue as before, only with the added benefit of people regarding him as a hero. But he knows, from the start, that everything will be different. He's lost his leg, and people notice the loss of the leg more than the medals he's received for his heroics; the glory of his sacrifice is tarnished by pity. Others have moved on with their lives, and there he is, an object of pity among them, beloved to them but also strange and upsetting. What does he live for at the end?

Title: War
Author: Luigi Pirandello
Translator: (Info not provided)

Although it's set against a backdrop of war, the story is not so much about war, but more about the difference between people's thoughts and the misleading impressions they give with what they say. There are a group of parents in a train car whose sons have enlisted in the military. They squabble about who has cause to worry most, and one passenger delivers a monologue on patriotism, and how "our children do not belong to us, they belong to the Country..." He nearly convinces one woman that she hasn't risen to the occasion and that she should resign herself to the possibility of her son dying in war. But all it takes is one innocent question to expose his own love and grief, which can't be quieted by any amount of tribute paid to abstract principles.