Vessel of Sadness
Vessel of Sadness is not a new book; it was first published in 1969. But it is fitting that there be a new printing on the 60th anniversary of the Anzio campaign. The book is a requiem of extraordinary beauty, a prose poem honoring the 50,000 Allied troops who gave their lives to open the road to Rome in early 1944. The author is a veteran of that campaign. The twenty or so stories that make up Vessel of Sadness were created from his and his comrades’ experiences. Woodruff places the reader squarely at the battlefront and forces us to see the war through infantrymen’s eyes, makes us feel their terror, exhaustion, loss, madness… and will to carry on.
The structure of the “novel” is confusing at first. It takes a few chapters to understand that this is a collection of stories connected only by chronology. The stories are narrated in the order they would have occurred, from the beginning of the invasion to its end. Each story has its own protagonist. Some stories are told in the first person, some in the third. To get a sense of the whole one could envision a group of veteran soldiers sitting round by a fireplace, reliving their memories. Some relate their own experiences. Others talk about those of their comrades. One tells of a dream he had. Still another recites a poem. Together they tell us what happens when men go to war.
This is a powerful book that should be read by everyone more than once in a lifetime. There is simply nothing to say when you finish it. It is a vessel of sadness.