When I was offered this book through NetGalley, I almost laughed. I am generally not a re-reader of books, but for this I made an exception. Years ago, long before Goodreads, I had a simpler system of keeping track of the books I read – I listed them by author in an old unused address book. (here I pause for millenials, who have never heard of an actual, paperbound address book, to google it.) Anyway, I was visiting my parents and, unable to sleep one night, so I grabbed Gone to Soldiers out of the basket my mom kept on the nightstand for guests. Hours later, bleary-eyed, I went to bed, and then, in the morning, asked if I could take the book with me in order to read the second half at home. Of course she lent it to me, and of course, as soon as I finished, I added it to my book. I was young then, so I have absolutely no excuse for this, but it makes me feel good to repeat the story as I age — I went to add it, only to find I had already read it!
This does not in any way reflect on the quality of the story or the lasting value of it. In fact, it is evidence that I have not changed much as a reader over the many years since then — I read a book fully in the moment, and then I promptly forget it, except for some scraps of storyline and sometimes strong feelings on whether I liked or disliked it.
I consider Gone to Soldiers a precursor to other terrific books on World War II, like All the Light We Cannot See and Those Who Save Us. Piercy delivers an epic novel that encompasses so many viewpoints — from the female aviators delivering planes in the US, to the soldiers in the trenches in Europe and beyond. There is plenty of action, along with some racy romance to liven things up without being inappropriate. For its time, it seems right on the money even now, almost more diverse than many books today. I read it on the kindle, because even though I enjoy a nice meaty book, it’s a lot lighter than having to heft the 800-page version you can buy in the store.
I wish I'd been able to read this book when I was assigned it for a graduate class on speculative fiction and utopias/dystopias. It's a rich novel with so much to discuss. As it is, I can imagine I'll only touch on some of the issues the book explores (see my long list of tags) and my reactions as I read.
First, this is the only speculative novel I've read with a Jewish protagonist and characters, steeped in Jewish culture. Woven together with Shira's story and her evolving relationship with Yod, the cyborg, is a story Shira's grandmother, Malkah, tells to Yod about the Jewish ghetto in Prague circa 1600, and the Golem created to defend those living there. At first I was thrown by the story and how it was being told, but after the first such chapter I got it. Obviously, Yod's and the Golem's stories parallel one another in essential ways. Primarily, both explore the question of "humanity" and personhood often raised by SF when androids or cyborgs are involved. I never get tired of this topic.
The novel was published in the early '90s, and so much is dead-on when it comes to our present and probable future--corporations running the world and determining culture; poverty and violence; the role of the internet; the destruction of the environment. The only "futuristic" bit that feels dated (if that makes sense) is the virtual reality-style raid, and that's only because people have been trying to make VR a thing for so long, and predicting it will be, despite it never catching on.
I loved the novel's representations of sexuality and gender, and it's clearly feminist, without being polemic. In its depiction of Tikva, the Jewish "free town" that exists beyond the corporate enclaves and "Glop" (megalopolis), socialism rises as the more humane and diverse system as compared to the rampant capitalism that rules most of the world.
Malkah and the Golem, Joseph, are the most interesting characters to me, and Nili grew on me as well, as she does with Shira. I sometimes struggled with Shira; she can be self-pitying and not always self-aware, though her journey involves coming into her own as a thinker and worker (however, she only comes to trust in herself when she learns she was deliberately not promoted; her stasis had nothing to do with a lack of skill--in other words, validation from others plays a strong role in her own sense of self, which is natural but dangerous). I also never liked Gadi, Shira's childhood love, which made it tougher for me to in turn like Shira.
My only other issue was with the pacing at the end, where for a moment it seems Shira is about to make a disastrous mistake before she quickly comes to her senses. I suppose this is meant as a contrast to the Maharal's way of dealing with Joseph, and a final show of growth for Shira. However, it comes and goes so fast, it felt melodramatic or heavy-handed.
If you like SF at all, or are eager for interesting female characters, or, like me, are maybe developing a deep fascination with A.I., this is a different and engrossing novel.
Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley
Perhaps the most common thing every nation in the world shares is its ability to leave people behind when progressive change occurs. Abigail Adams reminded her husband to not forget women when America was being founded, and of course, he did. Women helped in World War I and they still didn’t even have the vote. There are still debates about whether African-American women should put men’s rights before all
rights. In fact, that is not doubt true for any minority culture or ethnicity in any country.
So it is should be of no surprise that the French Revolution, which included the famous picture of a bare-breasted victory (and let’s really think about why she is always half nude), neglected the women who were a large part of that revolution.
Piercy’s book chronicles the lives of Paris citizens as they struggle in the days leading up to the Revolution and the days after it. While the majority of the characters she follows are women, there are more than a few men. The book is a rather cynical and somewhat hopeful look at revolution and change. Piercy’s book is worth reading because she covers all walks of life. There is Pauline, a young woman in Paris who has her own small business, a chocolate shop. This isn’t Chocolat, so the emphasis isn’t on the wonderful food and treats that she produces. It is on the politics and how Pauline gets caught up in. Is Revolutionary Paris, revolutionary enough?
And that really is the question.
Most often grand sweeping historical novels that are suppose to focus on the little person, really do not. They might start out that way, but plot and readership interest, always cause said little person to become part of a coterie of upper echelons. It is to Piercy’s credit that while some of her characters cross over, not all of them do. In many ways, it makes her historical fiction far more believable and compelling. While she does focus on the movers and shakers to a degree – both Danton and Robespierre have a role or two – the focus is kept on the smaller players. The everyday people that many readers of such books would have been. It really does feel like the stews of Paris at some points.