Jean-Luc & Anna Lise: A Novel of the Napoleonic Wars

Written by A. G. Cullen
Review by Vicki Kondelik

Jean-Luc and Anna Lise is an epic novel of the Napoleonic Wars seen through the eyes of Jean-Luc, a soldier in Napoleon’s army.  As a young man from a village in Alsace, Jean-Luc joins the army along with his friend Adrien. Jean-Luc is looking for adventure and glory, while Adrien, whose Prussian father disowns him for joining the French army, wants to distinguish himself in battle and make his father proud of him. Together they experience the horrors of war as they participate in Napoleon’s campaigns in Austria, Prussia, Spain, and, disastrously, the invasion of Russia in 1812. Meanwhile, Jean-Luc falls in love with Adrien’s sister, Anna Lise. Because Prussians are made to feel unwelcome in the village, Anna Lise’s father takes up an offer by the Tsar for Germans to move to Moscow and settles his family there. When Jean-Luc enters Moscow with the invading army, he searches for his beloved. He finds her, but will the couple survive the retreat through the brutal Russian winter?

Cullen’s writing is vivid and draws the reader into the life of a soldier in Napoleon’s army. We feel Jean-Luc’s horror over killing the enemy, but also the joys of riding the magnificent horses, the Shagyas, and of close comradery with his fellow soldiers. The battle scenes, especially those set in Spain and Russia, are gruesome at times, but true to life. We experience Jean-Luc’s dilemma as he is forced to perform horrific acts of violence or risk being shot as a deserter. The love story provides relief from the graphic descriptions of war. The novel is long, and definitely not for the squeamish, but it reads quickly, and I could not put it down. At the end, I found myself missing Jean-Luc and his comrades because they seemed so real to me.