Title: The Human Body
Author: Paolo Giordano
No. of Pages: 336
Origins: Pamela Dorman Books
Release Date: 2 October 2014
Bottom Line: Very well-written but the story is stilted
“In Paolo Giordano’s highly awaited new novel, a platoon of young men and one woman soldier leaves Italy for one of the most dangerous places on earth. Forward Operating Base (FOB) in the Gulistan district of Afghanistan is nothing but an exposed sandpit scorched by inescapable sunlight and deadly mortar fire.
Each member in the platoon manages the toxic mix of boredom and fear that is life at the FOB in his own way. Brash Cederna shamelessly picks on the virgin Ietri. Giulia Zampieri seemingly navigates this male-dominated world with ease—until two male comrades start vying for her attention. And for medical officer Alessandro Egitto, the FOB serves as an escape from a real life even more dangerous than one fought with guns. At night, lying on their beds, they feel the beat of their own hearts, the ceaseless activity of the human body. But when a much-debated mission goes devastatingly awry, the soldiers find their lives changed in an instant.
A heartrending, redemptive story about brotherhood and family, modern war and the wars we wage with ourselves, Paolo Giordano’s visceral novel reminds us what it is to be human.”
Thoughts: The Human Body is not a war novel. It neither glorifies nor disparages the Afghanistan conflict. Rather, it is a novel about people – people who just so happen to be in Afghanistan trained as soldiers and prepared to combat insurgents. It is about their lives before, during, and after their tour of duty. It is about the ways they combat the boredom, the danger, and the scars left by what they face. Mostly, it is about the ongoing battle of being human and surviving not just a war zone but also family, friends, and oneself.
It must be said that The Human Body is extremely well-written. Its sentences are crisp and efficient without sacrificing meaning, emotion, or description. There is a poetic quality to the narrative which readers will find soothing. This quality manages to make even the most gruesome scenes beautiful. The Afghan countryside takes on a tragic note as its practically indescribable grandeur hosts scenes of utmost horror.
In spite of all of this, the story is lacking. The narrative jumps from third person to first person and back again without warning. One chapter may be Egitto’s story told through third-person omniscience, but the next time readers see Egitto, it is via first person narration. It is a most unusual experience and one that can be quite jarring for readers.
While the characters themselves are interesting and varied, there are so many of them that not only is it challenging to keep them all straight, most of them remain flat and one-dimensional. There is little to no character development for most of the characters within the story. This lack of development undermines the character-driven plot of the novel.
One gets the distinct impression that in The Human Body, Paolo Giordano was a bit too ambitious in scope or did not write a long enough novel to achieve what he was trying to achieve. The cast of characters is just too big to be able develop them fully so that they not only help drive the plot but also so that readers can bond with them. There is also an unsettling feeling that one should have more than a rudimentary knowledge of the military, any military before starting the novel. So little of military life gets an explanation that those readers with no familiarity with or exposure to the unique acronyms and lifestyle of professional soldiers will be lost. It is a shame, really, because the potential greatness of The Human Body is so very near to the surface. All of the elements for this to be an amazing novel are there; they just need more page space to take root and to blossom – something they did not get.