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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Book Review: Comrades of War

Comrades of War (Cassell Military Paperbacks)Comrades of War by Sven Hassel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I picked this up from a book exchange at a B&B I was staying in. Judging from the cover (someone one should do with caution) I thought I was getting a mindless action tale to flip through while on vacation. I was wrong.

Comrades of War is a gritty look at the life of a unit of Wehrmacht soldiers as the Third Reich begins to collapse. There are few battle scenes. Most of the action takes place while they are in a hospital recovering from grievous wounds and drinking themselves to oblivion. There's plenty of fistfights, the guys solve a murder, and one of them even falls in love. then they go back to the front, a place they psychologically never left.

I'd never heard of Sven Hassel before I read this novel. Judging from his other titles, Comrades of War appears to be typical of his work. Many of the characters reappear in his other novels. I looked Hassel up and found him to be as intriguing as the books he wrote. He was Danish and claimed to have fought in the German army on the Eastern Front. Another Danish writer researched his past and said Hassel was in fact a Nazi informer in occupied Denmark. Claims and counterclaims shot back and forth and I am not sure who is right, although I'm leaning towards the "Hassel was a fake" theory.

Whatever he was, Hassel was a great writer who understood the madness of war and the mindset of soldiers. You end up sympathizing with these guys despite their being on the wrong side. They never commit atrocities (at least not in this book) and they hate the officer corps and the Nazi party members, who are invariably shown to be corrupt, brutal, and weak. Well worth a read.

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  1. I've not heard of him either.
    Thought about you while watching Hatfields and McCoys the past couple nights - what do you think of the mini-series?

    1. Living in Spain I don't see much American TV. Spanish TV is terrible so I don't actually own a TV set!

  2. Hi Sean, I'm a big Sven Hassel fan and saw this book review; glad you enjoyed it as much as I do. There's certainly a lot of controversy surrounding the accuracy/truthfulness of Hassel's stories which many people get tied up in. The important parts of the stories are exactly what you pick out here and although the stories are 'compressed' to fit in a book, they certainly sum up the Third Reich pretty well. Desperate cutthroats, bumbling officials and sadistic maniacs in equal measure. I do a bit of WH40K fiction and try to capture that same ethos as well. If you enjoyed this I recommend Arkady Babchenko's 'One Soldier's War In Chechnya' as being in the same category. Incidentally as far as I know Hassel is still alive and also in Spain.


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