The Man Who Walked Out of Isabelle
‘I’m a soldier of fortune. Death is a by-product of my profession.’ So says battle-hardened yet optimistic Max Kohl, the unforgettable main character who dominates Bourg’s massive, immersive debut novel. Kohl is a rough, raffish figure, fond of women and whiskey, and, like all the other characters in the book, intensely fond of tobacco. The novel follows Kohl from his boy-soldier childhood in the Nazi ranks, to the steamy jungles of Indochina, where he eventually ends up in the French garrison town of Isabelle as a German member of the French Foreign Legion. He is a professional soldier and adventurer, and since he has seen everything of the internecine treacheries so commonplace in the Vietnam of the 1950s, his idealism has been scoured away – now he is interested in survival.
In a lavishly detailed narrative, Bourg takes his readers through the many picaresque adventures of Kohl’s life, and the plot is so smoothly handled that the result has few dull spots, although there are some minor anachronisms. A hefty but worthwhile first novel.