by Steven R. Roberts with Alexander von Svoboda, 2013, Rouge River Press, Dearborn, MI
This story is about a youth who was drafted into Hitler’s army and survived incredible hardship. At the age of 15 Alexander Svoboda was sent to the Russian front to defend the motherland from the oncoming Russian army. His unit was severely outnumbered and, although many of his schoolmates in the same unit did not survive, Svoboda was captured by the Russians and sent to a POW camp in Siberia. He then escapes and makes his way back to his home in Austria (walking much of the way), only to find out that the Allies have cut a deal to turn over his part of Austria to Russian control at the end of the war.
I think the author really hit his stride in the telling of this story. The story is told by Alexander in first person, present tense. The story unfolds as if it is happening at this very minute rather than 70 years ago. With each page there is something new and interesting happening and the story never drags.
Although I really liked the book, I do have a few comments that I thought could have made the book just a bit better. In the first place, I didn’t like the font the book was printed with. It was published using a sans-serif font which I believe is more suited to a poster or notice of some kind. I am much more accustomed to reading a book using some kind of serif font such at Times-Roman. After reading a while it didn’t seem to make much difference, but it took a little getting used to at first.
As I read the book, I got the feeling that the story was being told by a much older individual than a boy of fifteen or sixteen. I am sure that the war would age someone quickly, both physically and mentally, but the story was related with far more wisdom, insight, and maturity than someone of that age could possibly possess. It’s understandable that this would occur as the story was told to the author many years after it occurred, but it took away some of the immediacy of the book.
I noticed in a couple of places where there were some grammatical errors in the case of a pronoun (using the accusative “me” instead of the nominative “I” with an intransitive verb). In English these errors are frequently heard and seen as we typically use different cases only with pronouns, but it is unlikely that a schoolboy who is trained in much more structured German would be making the same kinds of grammatical mistakes that we typically do in English. This is a pretty minor criticism, but as I was reading along, it was a bit jarring to see a typical English grammatical error uttered by a German schoolboy.
Lastly, there were a couple of places where the author switched from active to passive voice and back that seemed out of place.
These small items didn’t detract from the overall impact and impression of the book. I liked it very much.