The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw

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971e1a13552e72b74ca4_young_lion.jpg

Retro Review

The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw (Random House, 1948)

The Young Lions, by Irwin Shaw, first appeared in 1948, only three years after the end of World War II. It remains a classic war novel, ranked with other greats such as The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk, Exodus by Leon Uris, and From Here to Eternity by James Jones. These authors, Wouk, Uris, Mailer, Jones, and Shaw, were different from the authors who are “writing” today. These post-World War II writers not only told great stories, they were craftsmen who made every word count, who agonized over character development, who wrote with eloquence and elegance, and who had to power to make the reader weep with the words that made him/her empathize with the characters.

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The Young Lions follows the lives of three protagonists, Christian Dienst, Michael Whitacre, and Noah Ackerman. Ackerman's and Whitacre's war experiences become intertwined and eventually intersect with Dienst at the climax of the novel.

Dienst, a German, is a pretty boy ski instructor, who becomes a sergeant in the German army. While at first it seems that Dienst has a strand of humanitarianism in him, the course of the war, particularly the unbearable experiences that he suffers while on the African front, strip him of his ability to feel. Shaw's choice of name, Christian, becomes increasingly ironic as the novel unfolds, and Dienst's choices deteriorate in his struggle to survive.

One example of Dienst's descent into hell is when he wrongly identifies two French civilians as having killed Dienst's companion. The sergeant attends the execution of the two falsely convicted men, after which his Lieutenant observes, “They weren't the men at all, were they?” Christian hesitated, but only for a moment. “Frankly, Sir,” he replied, “I am not sure.” The Lieutenant smiled more broadly. “You're an intelligent man,” he said lightly. “The effect is the same. It proves to them that we are serious.” The fate of the two innocent Frenchmen had been in Christian's hands, but he cast aside their lives without even flinching at their bloody demise.

When the war breaks out Michael Whitacre is a writer, hard at work on a play in Hollywood. In the beginning of the story Whitacre and his wife, Laura, have a bitter argument in front of friends, and their marriage crumbles, leaving Michael unattached when he joins the military. In many ways Michael is lost, searching for a connection with anyone who can help him through the war with support and love. He uses the war to try to make sense of the world, and engages in philosophical conversations about the meaning of it all. However, through the course of the novel, Michael discovers himself and what feats of heroism he can achieve in the darkest of hours.

By far the most poignant and interesting character is little Noah Ackerman, a Jewish boy, newly married and wildly in love with his wife. Basic training becomes the ultimate nightmare for Ackerman as most of the men in his unit, including the commanding officer, despise him because he is a Jew. After experiencing numerous humiliations, including the theft of the ten dollars that he had been hiding to buy his wife a birthday present, Ackerman decides that the only way that he can win respect from the other men is to have a fist fight with each one of them. He bravely takes on the hulking unit one at a time, and the bullies succeed in breaking his nose, tearing his ear, busting his ribs, and bruising his face. But the men in his unit are unable to destroy Ackerman's pride and sense of morality. Through his stubborn decision to defend his honor, elements of leadership emerge in Ackerman. His odyssey through the war is breathtaking and we follow his story, feeling connected intimately to this extraordinary, young man.

My father, Jay Dakelman, fought in the five major battles of World War II. He was a medic with the First Army Corps of Engineers. After waiting in England for nearly two years to invade the continent, my father was sent onto Normandy Beach on D-Day plus two. Like one of the characters in Shaw's novel, my father had purchased a Leica camera upon arriving in Britain, and my grandfather, who owned a pharmacy, sent him precious film so that Jay was able to document his experiences and travels during the war.

The Young Lions follows exactly the path that my father's photos document of the war; towns like Orly, St. Lo, and Caen are the places where the characters fight their way through to the end of the European War in Berlin. Like many soldiers of his generation, my father didn't talk about the battles, the blood, the horror. He told lots of stories about his friends and their escapades of riding on motorcycles and flirting with English and French girls. It was Irwin Shaw who told me the details that my soldier father, who narrowly escaped capture at the Battle of the Bulge, could not tell me. Shaw's descriptions of soldiers marching quietly through woods, dodging the bullets of the unseen enemy, swimming across waters holding onto comrades who could not swim so that they could arrive safely on shore, are the stories I did not hear from my Dad.

Near the conclusion of the book, the Americans come upon and liberate a concentration camp, which was another experience that my father encountered. In my naivete regarding what liberation was like for the prisoners, I would ask my father, “Weren't the prisoners jumping up and down, weren't they cheering for the Americans when you arrived?”

My father would reply, “No, Beth. It wasn't like that at all. The only thing the prisoners would ask is 'where's the chocolate? Do you have any chocolate?'” The skeletal remains of human beings were so starved that the only thing that mattered to them was food, not liberation, not the great, conquering American army.

My father also imparted that until his unit came upon the concentration camp, they had not been aware that such things existed. He had not heard any of the rumors about them. This passage taken from Shaw's novel paints the scene of exactly what the Americans saw when they came into the camps:

The men in the trucks fell quietly as they drove up to the open gates. The smell, by itself, would have been enough to make them silent, but there was also the sight of the dead bodies sprawled at the gate and behind the wire, and the slowly moving mass of scarecrows in tattered striped suits who engulfed the trucks and Captain Green's jeep in a monstrous tide. They did not make much noise. Many of them wept, many of them tried to smile, although the objective appearance of their skull-like faces and their staring, cavernous eyes did not alter very much, either in weeping or smiling. It was as though these creatures were too far sunk in a tragedy which had moved off the plane of human reaction onto an animal level of despair---and the comparatively sophisticated grimaces of welcome, sorrow and happiness were, for the time being, beyond their primitive reach.

Only a soldier who experienced the scope of World War II could have written a novel such as The Young Lions. Shaw served in North Africa as a private, and then waited in London during the preparations for the invasion of Normandy. After D-Day, Shaw and his unit followed the front lines and documented many of the of the most important moments of the war, including the liberation of Paris and the Dachau Concentration Camp.

After the war, the gifted Irwin Shaw got caught up in the maelstrom of the McCarthy era and he expatriated to Paris where he lived among other great writers. Ultimately, he moved to Switzerland where he penned the two wildly popular novels Rich Man, Poor Man and Beggerman, Thief, which were made into t.v. M

ini-series in the U.S.

In 1958 The Young Lions was produced as a movie, starring Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, a film that is remembered as a great war movie that like most films, deviated a little too far from the text. The major criticism of the film is Brando's softening of the German character, Christian Dienst. Nevertheless, it is a film worth seeing.

The Young Lions, in its rawness and reality, will remain one of the treasured novels to emerge from one of America's darkest periods. If you are a fan of military history, or if you love to read prose that is rich and honed like poetry, I urge you to savor Irwin Shaw's The Young Lions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retro Review

The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw (Random House, 1948)

 

The Young Lions, by Irwin Shaw, first appeared in 1948, only three years after the end of World War II. It remains a classic war novel, ranked with other greats such as The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk, Exodus by Leon Uris, and From Here to Eternity by James Jones. These authors, Wouk, Uris, Mailer, Jones, and Shaw, were different from the authors who are “writing” today. These post-World War II writers not only told great stories, they were craftsmen who made every word count, who agonized over character development, who wrote with eloquence and elegance, and who had to power to make the reader weep with the words that made him/her empathize with the characters.

The Young Lions follows the lives of three protagonists, Christian Dienst, Michael Whitacre, and Noah Ackerman. Ackerman's and Whitacre's war experiences become intertwined and eventually intersect with Dienst at the climax of the novel.

Dienst, a German, is a pretty boy ski instructor, who becomes a sergeant in the German army. While at first it seems that Dienst has a strand of humanitarianism in him, the course of the war, particularly the unbearable experiences that he suffers while on the African front, strip him of his ability to feel. Shaw's choice of name, Christian, becomes increasingly ironic as the novel unfolds, and Dienst's choices deteriorate in his struggle to survive.

One example of Dienst's descent into hell is when he wrongly identifies two French civilians as having killed Dienst's companion. The sergeant attends the execution of the two falsely convicted men, after which his Lieutenant observes, “They weren't the men at all, were they?” Christian hesitated, but only for a moment. “Frankly, Sir,” he replied, “I am not sure.” The Lieutenant smiled more broadly. “You're an intelligent man,” he said lightly. “The effect is the same. It proves to them that we are serious.” The fate of the two innocent Frenchmen had been in Christian's hands, but he cast aside their lives without even flinching at their bloody demise.

When the war breaks out Michael Whitacre is a writer, hard at work on a play in Hollywood. In the beginning of the story Whitacre and his wife, Laura, have a bitter argument in front of friends, and their marriage crumbles, leaving Michael unattached when he joins the military. In many ways Michael is lost, searching for a connection with anyone who can help him through the war with support and love. He uses the war to try to make sense of the world, and engages in philosophical conversations about the meaning of it all. However, through the course of the novel, Michael discovers himself and what feats of heroism he can achieve in the darkest of hours.

By far the most poignant and interesting character is little Noah Ackerman, a Jewish boy, newly married and wildly in love with his wife. Basic training becomes the ultimate nightmare for Ackerman as most of the men in his unit, including the commanding officer, despise him because he is a Jew. After experiencing numerous humiliations, including the theft of the ten dollars that he had been hiding to buy his wife a birthday present, Ackerman decides that the only way that he can win respect from the other men is to have a fist fight with each one of them. He bravely takes on the hulking unit one at a time, and the bullies succeed in breaking his nose, tearing his ear, busting his ribs, and bruising his face. But the men in his unit are unable to destroy Ackerman's pride and sense of morality. Through his stubborn decision to defend his honor, elements of leadership emerge in Ackerman. His odyssey through the war is breathtaking and we follow his story, feeling connected intimately to this extraordinary, young man.

My father, Jay Dakelman, fought in the five major battles of World War II. He was a medic with the First Army Corps of Engineers. After waiting in England for nearly two years to invade the continent, my father was sent onto Normandy Beach on D-Day plus two. Like one of the characters in Shaw's novel, my father had purchased a Leica camera upon arriving in Britain, and my grandfather, who owned a pharmacy, sent him precious film so that Jay was able to document his experiences and travels during the war.

The Young Lions follows exactly the path that my father's photos document of the war; towns like Orly, St. Lo, and Caen are the places where the characters fight their way through to the end of the European War in Berlin. Like many soldiers of his generation, my father didn't talk about the battles, the blood, the horror. He told lots of stories about his friends and their escapades of riding on motorcycles and flirting with English and French girls. It was Irwin Shaw who told me the details that my soldier father, who narrowly escaped capture at the Battle of the Bulge, could not tell me. Shaw's descriptions of soldiers marching quietly through woods, dodging the bullets of the unseen enemy, swimming across waters holding onto comrades who could not swim so that they could arrive safely on shore, are the stories I did not hear from my Dad.

Near the conclusion of the book, the Americans come upon and liberate a concentration camp, which was another experience that my father encountered. In my naivete regarding what liberation was like for the prisoners, I would ask my father, “Weren't the prisoners jumping up and down, weren't they cheering for the Americans when you arrived?”

My father would reply, “No, Beth. It wasn't like that at all. The only thing the prisoners would ask is 'where's the chocolate? Do you have any chocolate?'” The skeletal remains of human beings were so starved that the only thing that mattered to them was food, not liberation, not the great, conquering American army.

My father also imparted that until his unit came upon the concentration camp, they had not been aware that such things existed. He had not heard any of the rumors about them. This passage taken from Shaw's novel paints the scene of exactly what the Americans saw when they came into the camps:

The men in the trucks fell quietly as they drove up to the open gates. The smell, by itself, would have been enough to make them silent, but there was also the sight of the dead bodies sprawled at the gate and behind the wire, and the slowly moving mass of scarecrows in tattered striped suits who engulfed the trucks and Captain Green's jeep in a monstrous tide. They did not make much noise. Many of them wept, many of them tried to smile, although the objective appearance of their skull-like faces and their staring, cavernous eyes did not alter very much, either in weeping or smiling. It was as though these creatures were too far sunk in a tragedy which had moved off the plane of human reaction onto an animal level of despair---and the comparatively sophisticated grimaces of welcome, sorrow and happiness were, for the time being, beyond their primitive reach.

Only a soldier who experienced the scope of World War II could have written a novel such as The Young Lions. Shaw served in North Africa as a private, and then waited in London during the preparations for the invasion of Normandy. After D-Day, Shaw and his unit followed the front lines and documented many of the of the most important moments of the war, including the liberation of Paris and the Dachau Concentration Camp.

After the war, the gifted Irwin Shaw got caught up in the maelstrom of the McCarthy era and he expatriated to Paris where he lived among other great writers. Ultimately, he moved to Switzerland where he penned the two wildly popular novels Rich Man, Poor Man and Beggerman, Thief, which were made into t.v. M

ini-series in the U.S.

In 1958 The Young Lions was produced as a movie, starring Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, a film that is remembered as a great war movie that like most films, deviated a little too far from the text. The major criticism of the film is Brando's softening of the German character, Christian Dienst. Nevertheless, it is a film worth seeing.

The Young Lions, in its rawness and reality, will remain one of the treasured novels to emerge from one of America's darkest periods. If you are a fan of military history, or if you love to read prose that is rich and honed like poetry, I urge you to savor Irwin Shaw's The Young Lions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retro Review

The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw (Random House, 1948)

 

The Young Lions, by Irwin Shaw, first appeared in 1948, only three years after the end of World War II. It remains a classic war novel, ranked with other greats such as The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk, Exodus by Leon Uris, and From Here to Eternity by James Jones. These authors, Wouk, Uris, Mailer, Jones, and Shaw, were different from the authors who are “writing” today. These post-World War II writers not only told great stories, they were craftsmen who made every word count, who agonized over character development, who wrote with eloquence and elegance, and who had to power to make the reader weep with the words that made him/her empathize with the characters.

The Young Lions follows the lives of three protagonists, Christian Dienst, Michael Whitacre, and Noah Ackerman. Ackerman's and Whitacre's war experiences become intertwined and eventually intersect with Dienst at the climax of the novel.

Dienst, a German, is a pretty boy ski instructor, who becomes a sergeant in the German army. While at first it seems that Dienst has a strand of humanitarianism in him, the course of the war, particularly the unbearable experiences that he suffers while on the African front, strip him of his ability to feel. Shaw's choice of name, Christian, becomes increasingly ironic as the novel unfolds, and Dienst's choices deteriorate in his struggle to survive.

One example of Dienst's descent into hell is when he wrongly identifies two French civilians as having killed Dienst's companion. The sergeant attends the execution of the two falsely convicted men, after which his Lieutenant observes, “They weren't the men at all, were they?” Christian hesitated, but only for a moment. “Frankly, Sir,” he replied, “I am not sure.” The Lieutenant smiled more broadly. “You're an intelligent man,” he said lightly. “The effect is the same. It proves to them that we are serious.” The fate of the two innocent Frenchmen had been in Christian's hands, but he cast aside their lives without even flinching at their bloody demise.

When the war breaks out Michael Whitacre is a writer, hard at work on a play in Hollywood. In the beginning of the story Whitacre and his wife, Laura, have a bitter argument in front of friends, and their marriage crumbles, leaving Michael unattached when he joins the military. In many ways Michael is lost, searching for a connection with anyone who can help him through the war with support and love. He uses the war to try to make sense of the world, and engages in philosophical conversations about the meaning of it all. However, through the course of the novel, Michael discovers himself and what feats of heroism he can achieve in the darkest of hours.

By far the most poignant and interesting character is little Noah Ackerman, a Jewish boy, newly married and wildly in love with his wife. Basic training becomes the ultimate nightmare for Ackerman as most of the men in his unit, including the commanding officer, despise him because he is a Jew. After experiencing numerous humiliations, including the theft of the ten dollars that he had been hiding to buy his wife a birthday present, Ackerman decides that the only way that he can win respect from the other men is to have a fist fight with each one of them. He bravely takes on the hulking unit one at a time, and the bullies succeed in breaking his nose, tearing his ear, busting his ribs, and bruising his face. But the men in his unit are unable to destroy Ackerman's pride and sense of morality. Through his stubborn decision to defend his honor, elements of leadership emerge in Ackerman. His odyssey through the war is breathtaking and we follow his story, feeling connected intimately to this extraordinary, young man.

My father, Jay Dakelman, fought in the five major battles of World War II. He was a medic with the First Army Corps of Engineers. After waiting in England for nearly two years to invade the continent, my father was sent onto Normandy Beach on D-Day plus two. Like one of the characters in Shaw's novel, my father had purchased a Leica camera upon arriving in Britain, and my grandfather, who owned a pharmacy, sent him precious film so that Jay was able to document his experiences and travels during the war.

The Young Lions follows exactly the path that my father's photos document of the war; towns like Orly, St. Lo, and Caen are the places where the characters fight their way through to the end of the European War in Berlin. Like many soldiers of his generation, my father didn't talk about the battles, the blood, the horror. He told lots of stories about his friends and their escapades of riding on motorcycles and flirting with English and French girls. It was Irwin Shaw who told me the details that my soldier father, who narrowly escaped capture at the Battle of the Bulge, could not tell me. Shaw's descriptions of soldiers marching quietly through woods, dodging the bullets of the unseen enemy, swimming across waters holding onto comrades who could not swim so that they could arrive safely on shore, are the stories I did not hear from my Dad.

Near the conclusion of the book, the Americans come upon and liberate a concentration camp, which was another experience that my father encountered. In my naivete regarding what liberation was like for the prisoners, I would ask my father, “Weren't the prisoners jumping up and down, weren't they cheering for the Americans when you arrived?”

My father would reply, “No, Beth. It wasn't like that at all. The only thing the prisoners would ask is 'where's the chocolate? Do you have any chocolate?'” The skeletal remains of human beings were so starved that the only thing that mattered to them was food, not liberation, not the great, conquering American army.

My father also imparted that until his unit came upon the concentration camp, they had not been aware that such things existed. He had not heard any of the rumors about them. This passage taken from Shaw's novel paints the scene of exactly what the Americans saw when they came into the camps:

The men in the trucks fell quietly as they drove up to the open gates. The smell, by itself, would have been enough to make them silent, but there was also the sight of the dead bodies sprawled at the gate and behind the wire, and the slowly moving mass of scarecrows in tattered striped suits who engulfed the trucks and Captain Green's jeep in a monstrous tide. They did not make much noise. Many of them wept, many of them tried to smile, although the objective appearance of their skull-like faces and their staring, cavernous eyes did not alter very much, either in weeping or smiling. It was as though these creatures were too far sunk in a tragedy which had moved off the plane of human reaction onto an animal level of despair---and the comparatively sophisticated grimaces of welcome, sorrow and happiness were, for the time being, beyond their primitive reach.

Only a soldier who experienced the scope of World War II could have written a novel such as The Young Lions. Shaw served in North Africa as a private, and then waited in London during the preparations for the invasion of Normandy. After D-Day, Shaw and his unit followed the front lines and documented many of the of the most important moments of the war, including the liberation of Paris and the Dachau Concentration Camp.

After the war, the gifted Irwin Shaw got caught up in the maelstrom of the McCarthy era and he expatriated to Paris where he lived among other great writers. Ultimately, he moved to Switzerland where he penned the two wildly popular novels Rich Man, Poor Man and Beggerman, Thief, which were made into t.v. M

ini-series in the U.S.

In 1958 The Young Lions was produced as a movie, starring Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, a film that is remembered as a great war movie that like most films, deviated a little too far from the text. The major criticism of the film is Brando's softening of the German character, Christian Dienst. Nevertheless, it is a film worth seeing.

The Young Lions, in its rawness and reality, will remain one of the treasured novels to emerge from one of America's darkest periods. If you are a fan of military history, or if you love to read prose that is rich and honed like poetry, I urge you to savor Irwin Shaw's The Young Lions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retro Review

The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw (Random House, 1948)

 

The Young Lions, by Irwin Shaw, first appeared in 1948, only three years after the end of World War II. It remains a classic war novel, ranked with other greats such as The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk, Exodus by Leon Uris, and From Here to Eternity by James Jones. These authors, Wouk, Uris, Mailer, Jones, and Shaw, were different from the authors who are “writing” today. These post-World War II writers not only told great stories, they were craftsmen who made every word count, who agonized over character development, who wrote with eloquence and elegance, and who had to power to make the reader weep with the words that made him/her empathize with the characters.

The Young Lions follows the lives of three protagonists, Christian Dienst, Michael Whitacre, and Noah Ackerman. Ackerman's and Whitacre's war experiences become intertwined and eventually intersect with Dienst at the climax of the novel.

Dienst, a German, is a pretty boy ski instructor, who becomes a sergeant in the German army. While at first it seems that Dienst has a strand of humanitarianism in him, the course of the war, particularly the unbearable experiences that he suffers while on the African front, strip him of his ability to feel. Shaw's choice of name, Christian, becomes increasingly ironic as the novel unfolds, and Dienst's choices deteriorate in his struggle to survive.

One example of Dienst's descent into hell is when he wrongly identifies two French civilians as having killed Dienst's companion. The sergeant attends the execution of the two falsely convicted men, after which his Lieutenant observes, “They weren't the men at all, were they?” Christian hesitated, but only for a moment. “Frankly, Sir,” he replied, “I am not sure.” The Lieutenant smiled more broadly. “You're an intelligent man,” he said lightly. “The effect is the same. It proves to them that we are serious.” The fate of the two innocent Frenchmen had been in Christian's hands, but he cast aside their lives without even flinching at their bloody demise.

When the war breaks out Michael Whitacre is a writer, hard at work on a play in Hollywood. In the beginning of the story Whitacre and his wife, Laura, have a bitter argument in front of friends, and their marriage crumbles, leaving Michael unattached when he joins the military. In many ways Michael is lost, searching for a connection with anyone who can help him through the war with support and love. He uses the war to try to make sense of the world, and engages in philosophical conversations about the meaning of it all. However, through the course of the novel, Michael discovers himself and what feats of heroism he can achieve in the darkest of hours.

By far the most poignant and interesting character is little Noah Ackerman, a Jewish boy, newly married and wildly in love with his wife. Basic training becomes the ultimate nightmare for Ackerman as most of the men in his unit, including the commanding officer, despise him because he is a Jew. After experiencing numerous humiliations, including the theft of the ten dollars that he had been hiding to buy his wife a birthday present, Ackerman decides that the only way that he can win respect from the other men is to have a fist fight with each one of them. He bravely takes on the hulking unit one at a time, and the bullies succeed in breaking his nose, tearing his ear, busting his ribs, and bruising his face. But the men in his unit are unable to destroy Ackerman's pride and sense of morality. Through his stubborn decision to defend his honor, elements of leadership emerge in Ackerman. His odyssey through the war is breathtaking and we follow his story, feeling connected intimately to this extraordinary, young man.

My father, Jay Dakelman, fought in the five major battles of World War II. He was a medic with the First Army Corps of Engineers. After waiting in England for nearly two years to invade the continent, my father was sent onto Normandy Beach on D-Day plus two. Like one of the characters in Shaw's novel, my father had purchased a Leica camera upon arriving in Britain, and my grandfather, who owned a pharmacy, sent him precious film so that Jay was able to document his experiences and travels during the war.

The Young Lions follows exactly the path that my father's photos document of the war; towns like Orly, St. Lo, and Caen are the places where the characters fight their way through to the end of the European War in Berlin. Like many soldiers of his generation, my father didn't talk about the battles, the blood, the horror. He told lots of stories about his friends and their escapades of riding on motorcycles and flirting with English and French girls. It was Irwin Shaw who told me the details that my soldier father, who narrowly escaped capture at the Battle of the Bulge, could not tell me. Shaw's descriptions of soldiers marching quietly through woods, dodging the bullets of the unseen enemy, swimming across waters holding onto comrades who could not swim so that they could arrive safely on shore, are the stories I did not hear from my Dad.

Near the conclusion of the book, the Americans come upon and liberate a concentration camp, which was another experience that my father encountered. In my naivete regarding what liberation was like for the prisoners, I would ask my father, “Weren't the prisoners jumping up and down, weren't they cheering for the Americans when you arrived?”

My father would reply, “No, Beth. It wasn't like that at all. The only thing the prisoners would ask is 'where's the chocolate? Do you have any chocolate?'” The skeletal remains of human beings were so starved that the only thing that mattered to them was food, not liberation, not the great, conquering American army.

My father also imparted that until his unit came upon the concentration camp, they had not been aware that such things existed. He had not heard any of the rumors about them. This passage taken from Shaw's novel paints the scene of exactly what the Americans saw when they came into the camps:

The men in the trucks fell quietly as they drove up to the open gates. The smell, by itself, would have been enough to make them silent, but there was also the sight of the dead bodies sprawled at the gate and behind the wire, and the slowly moving mass of scarecrows in tattered striped suits who engulfed the trucks and Captain Green's jeep in a monstrous tide. They did not make much noise. Many of them wept, many of them tried to smile, although the objective appearance of their skull-like faces and their staring, cavernous eyes did not alter very much, either in weeping or smiling. It was as though these creatures were too far sunk in a tragedy which had moved off the plane of human reaction onto an animal level of despair---and the comparatively sophisticated grimaces of welcome, sorrow and happiness were, for the time being, beyond their primitive reach.

Only a soldier who experienced the scope of World War II could have written a novel such as The Young Lions. Shaw served in North Africa as a private, and then waited in London during the preparations for the invasion of Normandy. After D-Day, Shaw and his unit followed the front lines and documented many of the of the most important moments of the war, including the liberation of Paris and the Dachau Concentration Camp.

After the war, the gifted Irwin Shaw got caught up in the maelstrom of the McCarthy era and he expatriated to Paris where he lived among other great writers. Ultimately, he moved to Switzerland where he penned the two wildly popular novels Rich Man, Poor Man and Beggerman, Thief, which were made into t.v. M

ini-series in the U.S.

In 1958 The Young Lions was produced as a movie, starring Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, a film that is remembered as a great war movie that like most films, deviated a little too far from the text. The major criticism of the film is Brando's softening of the German character, Christian Dienst. Nevertheless, it is a film worth seeing.

The Young Lions, in its rawness and reality, will remain one of the treasured novels to emerge from one of America's darkest periods. If you are a fan of military history, or if you love to read prose that is rich and honed like poetry, I urge you to savor Irwin Shaw's The Young Lions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retro Review

The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw (Random House, 1948)

 

The Young Lions, by Irwin Shaw, first appeared in 1948, only three years after the end of World War II. It remains a classic war novel, ranked with other greats such as The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk, Exodus by Leon Uris, and From Here to Eternity by James Jones. These authors, Wouk, Uris, Mailer, Jones, and Shaw, were different from the authors who are “writing” today. These post-World War II writers not only told great stories, they were craftsmen who made every word count, who agonized over character development, who wrote with eloquence and elegance, and who had to power to make the reader weep with the words that made him/her empathize with the characters.

The Young Lions follows the lives of three protagonists, Christian Dienst, Michael Whitacre, and Noah Ackerman. Ackerman's and Whitacre's war experiences become intertwined and eventually intersect with Dienst at the climax of the novel.

Dienst, a German, is a pretty boy ski instructor, who becomes a sergeant in the German army. While at first it seems that Dienst has a strand of humanitarianism in him, the course of the war, particularly the unbearable experiences that he suffers while on the African front, strip him of his ability to feel. Shaw's choice of name, Christian, becomes increasingly ironic as the novel unfolds, and Dienst's choices deteriorate in his struggle to survive.

One example of Dienst's descent into hell is when he wrongly identifies two French civilians as having killed Dienst's companion. The sergeant attends the execution of the two falsely convicted men, after which his Lieutenant observes, “They weren't the men at all, were they?” Christian hesitated, but only for a moment. “Frankly, Sir,” he replied, “I am not sure.” The Lieutenant smiled more broadly. “You're an intelligent man,” he said lightly. “The effect is the same. It proves to them that we are serious.” The fate of the two innocent Frenchmen had been in Christian's hands, but he cast aside their lives without even flinching at their bloody demise.

When the war breaks out Michael Whitacre is a writer, hard at work on a play in Hollywood. In the beginning of the story Whitacre and his wife, Laura, have a bitter argument in front of friends, and their marriage crumbles, leaving Michael unattached when he joins the military. In many ways Michael is lost, searching for a connection with anyone who can help him through the war with support and love. He uses the war to try to make sense of the world, and engages in philosophical conversations about the meaning of it all. However, through the course of the novel, Michael discovers himself and what feats of heroism he can achieve in the darkest of hours.

By far the most poignant and interesting character is little Noah Ackerman, a Jewish boy, newly married and wildly in love with his wife. Basic training becomes the ultimate nightmare for Ackerman as most of the men in his unit, including the commanding officer, despise him because he is a Jew. After experiencing numerous humiliations, including the theft of the ten dollars that he had been hiding to buy his wife a birthday present, Ackerman decides that the only way that he can win respect from the other men is to have a fist fight with each one of them. He bravely takes on the hulking unit one at a time, and the bullies succeed in breaking his nose, tearing his ear, busting his ribs, and bruising his face. But the men in his unit are unable to destroy Ackerman's pride and sense of morality. Through his stubborn decision to defend his honor, elements of leadership emerge in Ackerman. His odyssey through the war is breathtaking and we follow his story, feeling connected intimately to this extraordinary, young man.

My father, Jay Dakelman, fought in the five major battles of World War II. He was a medic with the First Army Corps of Engineers. After waiting in England for nearly two years to invade the continent, my father was sent onto Normandy Beach on D-Day plus two. Like one of the characters in Shaw's novel, my father had purchased a Leica camera upon arriving in Britain, and my grandfather, who owned a pharmacy, sent him precious film so that Jay was able to document his experiences and travels during the war.

The Young Lions follows exactly the path that my father's photos document of the war; towns like Orly, St. Lo, and Caen are the places where the characters fight their way through to the end of the European War in Berlin. Like many soldiers of his generation, my father didn't talk about the battles, the blood, the horror. He told lots of stories about his friends and their escapades of riding on motorcycles and flirting with English and French girls. It was Irwin Shaw who told me the details that my soldier father, who narrowly escaped capture at the Battle of the Bulge, could not tell me. Shaw's descriptions of soldiers marching quietly through woods, dodging the bullets of the unseen enemy, swimming across waters holding onto comrades who could not swim so that they could arrive safely on shore, are the stories I did not hear from my Dad.

Near the conclusion of the book, the Americans come upon and liberate a concentration camp, which was another experience that my father encountered. In my naivete regarding what liberation was like for the prisoners, I would ask my father, “Weren't the prisoners jumping up and down, weren't they cheering for the Americans when you arrived?”

My father would reply, “No, Beth. It wasn't like that at all. The only thing the prisoners would ask is 'where's the chocolate? Do you have any chocolate?'” The skeletal remains of human beings were so starved that the only thing that mattered to them was food, not liberation, not the great, conquering American army.

My father also imparted that until his unit came upon the concentration camp, they had not been aware that such things existed. He had not heard any of the rumors about them. This passage taken from Shaw's novel paints the scene of exactly what the Americans saw when they came into the camps:

The men in the trucks fell quietly as they drove up to the open gates. The smell, by itself, would have been enough to make them silent, but there was also the sight of the dead bodies sprawled at the gate and behind the wire, and the slowly moving mass of scarecrows in tattered striped suits who engulfed the trucks and Captain Green's jeep in a monstrous tide. They did not make much noise. Many of them wept, many of them tried to smile, although the objective appearance of their skull-like faces and their staring, cavernous eyes did not alter very much, either in weeping or smiling. It was as though these creatures were too far sunk in a tragedy which had moved off the plane of human reaction onto an animal level of despair---and the comparatively sophisticated grimaces of welcome, sorrow and happiness were, for the time being, beyond their primitive reach.

Only a soldier who experienced the scope of World War II could have written a novel such as The Young Lions. Shaw served in North Africa as a private, and then waited in London during the preparations for the invasion of Normandy. After D-Day, Shaw and his unit followed the front lines and documented many of the of the most important moments of the war, including the liberation of Paris and the Dachau Concentration Camp.

After the war, the gifted Irwin Shaw got caught up in the maelstrom of the McCarthy era and he expatriated to Paris where he lived among other great writers. Ultimately, he moved to Switzerland where he penned the two wildly popular novels Rich Man, Poor Man and Beggerman, Thief, which were made into t.v. M

ini-series in the U.S.

In 1958 The Young Lions was produced as a movie, starring Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, a film that is remembered as a great war movie that like most films, deviated a little too far from the text. The major criticism of the film is Brando's softening of the German character, Christian Dienst. Nevertheless, it is a film worth seeing.

The Young Lions, in its rawness and reality, will remain one of the treasured novels to emerge from one of America's darkest periods. If you are a fan of military history, or if you love to read prose that is rich and honed like poetry, I urge you to savor Irwin Shaw's The Young Lions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retro Review

The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw (Random House, 1948)

 

The Young Lions, by Irwin Shaw, first appeared in 1948, only three years after the end of World War II. It remains a classic war novel, ranked with other greats such as The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk, Exodus by Leon Uris, and From Here to Eternity by James Jones. These authors, Wouk, Uris, Mailer, Jones, and Shaw, were different from the authors who are “writing” today. These post-World War II writers not only told great stories, they were craftsmen who made every word count, who agonized over character development, who wrote with eloquence and elegance, and who had to power to make the reader weep with the words that made him/her empathize with the characters.

The Young Lions follows the lives of three protagonists, Christian Dienst, Michael Whitacre, and Noah Ackerman. Ackerman's and Whitacre's war experiences become intertwined and eventually intersect with Dienst at the climax of the novel.

Dienst, a German, is a pretty boy ski instructor, who becomes a sergeant in the German army. While at first it seems that Dienst has a strand of humanitarianism in him, the course of the war, particularly the unbearable experiences that he suffers while on the African front, strip him of his ability to feel. Shaw's choice of name, Christian, becomes increasingly ironic as the novel unfolds, and Dienst's choices deteriorate in his struggle to survive.

One example of Dienst's descent into hell is when he wrongly identifies two French civilians as having killed Dienst's companion. The sergeant attends the execution of the two falsely convicted men, after which his Lieutenant observes, “They weren't the men at all, were they?” Christian hesitated, but only for a moment. “Frankly, Sir,” he replied, “I am not sure.” The Lieutenant smiled more broadly. “You're an intelligent man,” he said lightly. “The effect is the same. It proves to them that we are serious.” The fate of the two innocent Frenchmen had been in Christian's hands, but he cast aside their lives without even flinching at their bloody demise.

When the war breaks out Michael Whitacre is a writer, hard at work on a play in Hollywood. In the beginning of the story Whitacre and his wife, Laura, have a bitter argument in front of friends, and their marriage crumbles, leaving Michael unattached when he joins the military. In many ways Michael is lost, searching for a connection with anyone who can help him through the war with support and love. He uses the war to try to make sense of the world, and engages in philosophical conversations about the meaning of it all. However, through the course of the novel, Michael discovers himself and what feats of heroism he can achieve in the darkest of hours.

By far the most poignant and interesting character is little Noah Ackerman, a Jewish boy, newly married and wildly in love with his wife. Basic training becomes the ultimate nightmare for Ackerman as most of the men in his unit, including the commanding officer, despise him because he is a Jew. After experiencing numerous humiliations, including the theft of the ten dollars that he had been hiding to buy his wife a birthday present, Ackerman decides that the only way that he can win respect from the other men is to have a fist fight with each one of them. He bravely takes on the hulking unit one at a time, and the bullies succeed in breaking his nose, tearing his ear, busting his ribs, and bruising his face. But the men in his unit are unable to destroy Ackerman's pride and sense of morality. Through his stubborn decision to defend his honor, elements of leadership emerge in Ackerman. His odyssey through the war is breathtaking and we follow his story, feeling connected intimately to this extraordinary, young man.

My father, Jay Dakelman, fought in the five major battles of World War II. He was a medic with the First Army Corps of Engineers. After waiting in England for nearly two years to invade the continent, my father was sent onto Normandy Beach on D-Day plus two. Like one of the characters in Shaw's novel, my father had purchased a Leica camera upon arriving in Britain, and my grandfather, who owned a pharmacy, sent him precious film so that Jay was able to document his experiences and travels during the war.

The Young Lions follows exactly the path that my father's photos document of the war; towns like Orly, St. Lo, and Caen are the places where the characters fight their way through to the end of the European War in Berlin. Like many soldiers of his generation, my father didn't talk about the battles, the blood, the horror. He told lots of stories about his friends and their escapades of riding on motorcycles and flirting with English and French girls. It was Irwin Shaw who told me the details that my soldier father, who narrowly escaped capture at the Battle of the Bulge, could not tell me. Shaw's descriptions of soldiers marching quietly through woods, dodging the bullets of the unseen enemy, swimming across waters holding onto comrades who could not swim so that they could arrive safely on shore, are the stories I did not hear from my Dad.

Near the conclusion of the book, the Americans come upon and liberate a concentration camp, which was another experience that my father encountered. In my naivete regarding what liberation was like for the prisoners, I would ask my father, “Weren't the prisoners jumping up and down, weren't they cheering for the Americans when you arrived?”

My father would reply, “No, Beth. It wasn't like that at all. The only thing the prisoners would ask is 'where's the chocolate? Do you have any chocolate?'” The skeletal remains of human beings were so starved that the only thing that mattered to them was food, not liberation, not the great, conquering American army.

My father also imparted that until his unit came upon the concentration camp, they had not been aware that such things existed. He had not heard any of the rumors about them. This passage taken from Shaw's novel paints the scene of exactly what the Americans saw when they came into the camps:

The men in the trucks fell quietly as they drove up to the open gates. The smell, by itself, would have been enough to make them silent, but there was also the sight of the dead bodies sprawled at the gate and behind the wire, and the slowly moving mass of scarecrows in tattered striped suits who engulfed the trucks and Captain Green's jeep in a monstrous tide. They did not make much noise. Many of them wept, many of them tried to smile, although the objective appearance of their skull-like faces and their staring, cavernous eyes did not alter very much, either in weeping or smiling. It was as though these creatures were too far sunk in a tragedy which had moved off the plane of human reaction onto an animal level of despair---and the comparatively sophisticated grimaces of welcome, sorrow and happiness were, for the time being, beyond their primitive reach.

Only a soldier who experienced the scope of World War II could have written a novel such as The Young Lions. Shaw served in North Africa as a private, and then waited in London during the preparations for the invasion of Normandy. After D-Day, Shaw and his unit followed the front lines and documented many of the of the most important moments of the war, including the liberation of Paris and the Dachau Concentration Camp.

After the war, the gifted Irwin Shaw got caught up in the maelstrom of the McCarthy era and he expatriated to Paris where he lived among other great writers. Ultimately, he moved to Switzerland where he penned the two wildly popular novels Rich Man, Poor Man and Beggerman, Thief, which were made into t.v. M

ini-series in the U.S.

In 1958 The Young Lions was produced as a movie, starring Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, a film that is remembered as a great war movie that like most films, deviated a little too far from the text. The major criticism of the film is Brando's softening of the German character, Christian Dienst. Nevertheless, it is a film worth seeing.

The Young Lions, in its rawness and reality, will remain one of the treasured novels to emerge from one of America's darkest periods. If you are a fan of military history, or if you love to read prose that is rich and honed like poetry, I urge you to savor Irwin Shaw's The Young Lions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

v

Retro Review

The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw (Random House, 1948)

 

The Young Lions, by Irwin Shaw, first appeared in 1948, only three years after the end of World War II. It remains a classic war novel, ranked with other greats such as The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk, Exodus by Leon Uris, and From Here to Eternity by James Jones. These authors, Wouk, Uris, Mailer, Jones, and Shaw, were different from the authors who are “writing” today. These post-World War II writers not only told great stories, they were craftsmen who made every word count, who agonized over character development, who wrote with eloquence and elegance, and who had to power to make the reader weep with the words that made him/her empathize with the characters.

The Young Lions follows the lives of three protagonists, Christian Dienst, Michael Whitacre, and Noah Ackerman. Ackerman's and Whitacre's war experiences become intertwined and eventually intersect with Dienst at the climax of the novel.

Dienst, a German, is a pretty boy ski instructor, who becomes a sergeant in the German army. While at first it seems that Dienst has a strand of humanitarianism in him, the course of the war, particularly the unbearable experiences that he suffers while on the African front, strip him of his ability to feel. Shaw's choice of name, Christian, becomes increasingly ironic as the novel unfolds, and Dienst's choices deteriorate in his struggle to survive.

One example of Dienst's descent into hell is when he wrongly identifies two French civilians as having killed Dienst's companion. The sergeant attends the execution of the two falsely convicted men, after which his Lieutenant observes, “They weren't the men at all, were they?” Christian hesitated, but only for a moment. “Frankly, Sir,” he replied, “I am not sure.” The Lieutenant smiled more broadly. “You're an intelligent man,” he said lightly. “The effect is the same. It proves to them that we are serious.” The fate of the two innocent Frenchmen had been in Christian's hands, but he cast aside their lives without even flinching at their bloody demise.

When the war breaks out Michael Whitacre is a writer, hard at work on a play in Hollywood. In the beginning of the story Whitacre and his wife, Laura, have a bitter argument in front of friends, and their marriage crumbles, leaving Michael unattached when he joins the military. In many ways Michael is lost, searching for a connection with anyone who can help him through the war with support and love. He uses the war to try to make sense of the world, and engages in philosophical conversations about the meaning of it all. However, through the course of the novel, Michael discovers himself and what feats of heroism he can achieve in the darkest of hours.

By far the most poignant and interesting character is little Noah Ackerman, a Jewish boy, newly married and wildly in love with his wife. Basic training becomes the ultimate nightmare for Ackerman as most of the men in his unit, including the commanding officer, despise him because he is a Jew. After experiencing numerous humiliations, including the theft of the ten dollars that he had been hiding to buy his wife a birthday present, Ackerman decides that the only way that he can win respect from the other men is to have a fist fight with each one of them. He bravely takes on the hulking unit one at a time, and the bullies succeed in breaking his nose, tearing his ear, busting his ribs, and bruising his face. But the men in his unit are unable to destroy Ackerman's pride and sense of morality. Through his stubborn decision to defend his honor, elements of leadership emerge in Ackerman. His odyssey through the war is breathtaking and we follow his story, feeling connected intimately to this extraordinary, young man.

My father, Jay Dakelman, fought in the five major battles of World War II. He was a medic with the First Army Corps of Engineers. After waiting in England for nearly two years to invade the continent, my father was sent onto Normandy Beach on D-Day plus two. Like one of the characters in Shaw's novel, my father had purchased a Leica camera upon arriving in Britain, and my grandfather, who owned a pharmacy, sent him precious film so that Jay was able to document his experiences and travels during the war.

The Young Lions follows exactly the path that my father's photos document of the war; towns like Orly, St. Lo, and Caen are the places where the characters fight their way through to the end of the European War in Berlin. Like many soldiers of his generation, my father didn't talk about the battles, the blood, the horror. He told lots of stories about his friends and their escapades of riding on motorcycles and flirting with English and French girls. It was Irwin Shaw who told me the details that my soldier father, who narrowly escaped capture at the Battle of the Bulge, could not tell me. Shaw's descriptions of soldiers marching quietly through woods, dodging the bullets of the unseen enemy, swimming across waters holding onto comrades who could not swim so that they could arrive safely on shore, are the stories I did not hear from my Dad.

Near the conclusion of the book, the Americans come upon and liberate a concentration camp, which was another experience that my father encountered. In my naivete regarding what liberation was like for the prisoners, I would ask my father, “Weren't the prisoners jumping up and down, weren't they cheering for the Americans when you arrived?”

My father would reply, “No, Beth. It wasn't like that at all. The only thing the prisoners would ask is 'where's the chocolate? Do you have any chocolate?'” The skeletal remains of human beings were so starved that the only thing that mattered to them was food, not liberation, not the great, conquering American army.

My father also imparted that until his unit came upon the concentration camp, they had not been aware that such things existed. He had not heard any of the rumors about them. This passage taken from Shaw's novel paints the scene of exactly what the Americans saw when they came into the camps:

The men in the trucks fell quietly as they drove up to the open gates. The smell, by itself, would have been enough to make them silent, but there was also the sight of the dead bodies sprawled at the gate and behind the wire, and the slowly moving mass of scarecrows in tattered striped suits who engulfed the trucks and Captain Green's jeep in a monstrous tide. They did not make much noise. Many of them wept, many of them tried to smile, although the objective appearance of their skull-like faces and their staring, cavernous eyes did not alter very much, either in weeping or smiling. It was as though these creatures were too far sunk in a tragedy which had moved off the plane of human reaction onto an animal level of despair---and the comparatively sophisticated grimaces of welcome, sorrow and happiness were, for the time being, beyond their primitive reach.

Only a soldier who experienced the scope of World War II could have written a novel such as The Young Lions. Shaw served in North Africa as a private, and then waited in London during the preparations for the invasion of Normandy. After D-Day, Shaw and his unit followed the front lines and documented many of the of the most important moments of the war, including the liberation of Paris and the Dachau Concentration Camp.

After the war, the gifted Irwin Shaw got caught up in the maelstrom of the McCarthy era and he expatriated to Paris where he lived among other great writers. Ultimately, he moved to Switzerland where he penned the two wildly popular novels Rich Man, Poor Man and Beggerman, Thief, which were made into t.v. M

ini-series in the U.S.

In 1958 The Young Lions was produced as a movie, starring Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, a film that is remembered as a great war movie that like most films, deviated a little too far from the text. The major criticism of the film is Brando's softening of the German character, Christian Dienst. Nevertheless, it is a film worth seeing.

The Young Lions, in its rawness and reality, will remain one of the treasured novels to emerge from one of America's darkest periods. If you are a fan of military history, or if you love to read prose that is rich and honed like poetry, I urge you to savor Irwin Shaw's The Young Lions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retro Review

The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw (Random House, 1948)

 

The Young Lions, by Irwin Shaw, first appeared in 1948, only three years after the end of World War II. It remains a classic war novel, ranked with other greats such as The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk, Exodus by Leon Uris, and From Here to Eternity by James Jones. These authors, Wouk, Uris, Mailer, Jones, and Shaw, were different from the authors who are “writing” today. These post-World War II writers not only told great stories, they were craftsmen who made every word count, who agonized over character development, who wrote with eloquence and elegance, and who had to power to make the reader weep with the words that made him/her empathize with the characters.

The Young Lions follows the lives of three protagonists, Christian Dienst, Michael Whitacre, and Noah Ackerman. Ackerman's and Whitacre's war experiences become intertwined and eventually intersect with Dienst at the climax of the novel.

Dienst, a German, is a pretty boy ski instructor, who becomes a sergeant in the German army. While at first it seems that Dienst has a strand of humanitarianism in him, the course of the war, particularly the unbearable experiences that he suffers while on the African front, strip him of his ability to feel. Shaw's choice of name, Christian, becomes increasingly ironic as the novel unfolds, and Dienst's choices deteriorate in his struggle to survive.

One example of Dienst's descent into hell is when he wrongly identifies two French civilians as having killed Dienst's companion. The sergeant attends the execution of the two falsely convicted men, after which his Lieutenant observes, “They weren't the men at all, were they?” Christian hesitated, but only for a moment. “Frankly, Sir,” he replied, “I am not sure.” The Lieutenant smiled more broadly. “You're an intelligent man,” he said lightly. “The effect is the same. It proves to them that we are serious.” The fate of the two innocent Frenchmen had been in Christian's hands, but he cast aside their lives without even flinching at their bloody demise.

When the war breaks out Michael Whitacre is a writer, hard at work on a play in Hollywood. In the beginning of the story Whitacre and his wife, Laura, have a bitter argument in front of friends, and their marriage crumbles, leaving Michael unattached when he joins the military. In many ways Michael is lost, searching for a connection with anyone who can help him through the war with support and love. He uses the war to try to make sense of the world, and engages in philosophical conversations about the meaning of it all. However, through the course of the novel, Michael discovers himself and what feats of heroism he can achieve in the darkest of hours.

By far the most poignant and interesting character is little Noah Ackerman, a Jewish boy, newly married and wildly in love with his wife. Basic training becomes the ultimate nightmare for Ackerman as most of the men in his unit, including the commanding officer, despise him because he is a Jew. After experiencing numerous humiliations, including the theft of the ten dollars that he had been hiding to buy his wife a birthday present, Ackerman decides that the only way that he can win respect from the other men is to have a fist fight with each one of them. He bravely takes on the hulking unit one at a time, and the bullies succeed in breaking his nose, tearing his ear, busting his ribs, and bruising his face. But the men in his unit are unable to destroy Ackerman's pride and sense of morality. Through his stubborn decision to defend his honor, elements of leadership emerge in Ackerman. His odyssey through the war is breathtaking and we follow his story, feeling connected intimately to this extraordinary, young man.

My father, Jay Dakelman, fought in the five major battles of World War II. He was a medic with the First Army Corps of Engineers. After waiting in England for nearly two years to invade the continent, my father was sent onto Normandy Beach on D-Day plus two. Like one of the characters in Shaw's novel, my father had purchased a Leica camera upon arriving in Britain, and my grandfather, who owned a pharmacy, sent him precious film so that Jay was able to document his experiences and travels during the war.

The Young Lions follows exactly the path that my father's photos document of the war; towns like Orly, St. Lo, and Caen are the places where the characters fight their way through to the end of the European War in Berlin. Like many soldiers of his generation, my father didn't talk about the battles, the blood, the horror. He told lots of stories about his friends and their escapades of riding on motorcycles and flirting with English and French girls. It was Irwin Shaw who told me the details that my soldier father, who narrowly escaped capture at the Battle of the Bulge, could not tell me. Shaw's descriptions of soldiers marching quietly through woods, dodging the bullets of the unseen enemy, swimming across waters holding onto comrades who could not swim so that they could arrive safely on shore, are the stories I did not hear from my Dad.

Near the conclusion of the book, the Americans come upon and liberate a concentration camp, which was another experience that my father encountered. In my naivete regarding what liberation was like for the prisoners, I would ask my father, “Weren't the prisoners jumping up and down, weren't they cheering for the Americans when you arrived?”

My father would reply, “No, Beth. It wasn't like that at all. The only thing the prisoners would ask is 'where's the chocolate? Do you have any chocolate?'” The skeletal remains of human beings were so starved that the only thing that mattered to them was food, not liberation, not the great, conquering American army.

My father also imparted that until his unit came upon the concentration camp, they had not been aware that such things existed. He had not heard any of the rumors about them. This passage taken from Shaw's novel paints the scene of exactly what the Americans saw when they came into the camps:

The men in the trucks fell quietly as they drove up to the open gates. The smell, by itself, would have been enough to make them silent, but there was also the sight of the dead bodies sprawled at the gate and behind the wire, and the slowly moving mass of scarecrows in tattered striped suits who engulfed the trucks and Captain Green's jeep in a monstrous tide. They did not make much noise. Many of them wept, many of them tried to smile, although the objective appearance of their skull-like faces and their staring, cavernous eyes did not alter very much, either in weeping or smiling. It was as though these creatures were too far sunk in a tragedy which had moved off the plane of human reaction onto an animal level of despair---and the comparatively sophisticated grimaces of welcome, sorrow and happiness were, for the time being, beyond their primitive reach.

Only a soldier who experienced the scope of World War II could have written a novel such as The Young Lions. Shaw served in North Africa as a private, and then waited in London during the preparations for the invasion of Normandy. After D-Day, Shaw and his unit followed the front lines and documented many of the of the most important moments of the war, including the liberation of Paris and the Dachau Concentration Camp.

After the war, the gifted Irwin Shaw got caught up in the maelstrom of the McCarthy era and he expatriated to Paris where he lived among other great writers. Ultimately, he moved to Switzerland where he penned the two wildly popular novels Rich Man, Poor Man and Beggerman, Thief, which were made into t.v. M

ini-series in the U.S.

In 1958 The Young Lions was produced as a movie, starring Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, a film that is remembered as a great war movie that like most films, deviated a little too far from the text. The major criticism of the film is Brando's softening of the German character, Christian Dienst. Nevertheless, it is a film worth seeing.

The Young Lions, in its rawness and reality, will remain one of the treasured novels to emerge from one of America's darkest periods. If you are a fan of military history, or if you love to read prose that is rich and honed like poetry, I urge you to savor Irwin Shaw's The Young Lions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retro Review

The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw (Random House, 1948)

 

The Young Lions, by Irwin Shaw, first appeared in 1948, only three years after the end of World War II. It remains a classic war novel, ranked with other greats such as The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk, Exodus by Leon Uris, and From Here to Eternity by James Jones. These authors, Wouk, Uris, Mailer, Jones, and Shaw, were different from the authors who are “writing” today. These post-World War II writers not only told great stories, they were craftsmen who made every word count, who agonized over character development, who wrote with eloquence and elegance, and who had to power to make the reader weep with the words that made him/her empathize with the characters.

The Young Lions follows the lives of three protagonists, Christian Dienst, Michael Whitacre, and Noah Ackerman. Ackerman's and Whitacre's war experiences become intertwined and eventually intersect with Dienst at the climax of the novel.

Dienst, a German, is a pretty boy ski instructor, who becomes a sergeant in the German army. While at first it seems that Dienst has a strand of humanitarianism in him, the course of the war, particularly the unbearable experiences that he suffers while on the African front, strip him of his ability to feel. Shaw's choice of name, Christian, becomes increasingly ironic as the novel unfolds, and Dienst's choices deteriorate in his struggle to survive.

One example of Dienst's descent into hell is when he wrongly identifies two French civilians as having killed Dienst's companion. The sergeant attends the execution of the two falsely convicted men, after which his Lieutenant observes, “They weren't the men at all, were they?” Christian hesitated, but only for a moment. “Frankly, Sir,” he replied, “I am not sure.” The Lieutenant smiled more broadly. “You're an intelligent man,” he said lightly. “The effect is the same. It proves to them that we are serious.” The fate of the two innocent Frenchmen had been in Christian's hands, but he cast aside their lives without even flinching at their bloody demise.

When the war breaks out Michael Whitacre is a writer, hard at work on a play in Hollywood. In the beginning of the story Whitacre and his wife, Laura, have a bitter argument in front of friends, and their marriage crumbles, leaving Michael unattached when he joins the military. In many ways Michael is lost, searching for a connection with anyone who can help him through the war with support and love. He uses the war to try to make sense of the world, and engages in philosophical conversations about the meaning of it all. However, through the course of the novel, Michael discovers himself and what feats of heroism he can achieve in the darkest of hours.

By far the most poignant and interesting character is little Noah Ackerman, a Jewish boy, newly married and wildly in love with his wife. Basic training becomes the ultimate nightmare for Ackerman as most of the men in his unit, including the commanding officer, despise him because he is a Jew. After experiencing numerous humiliations, including the theft of the ten dollars that he had been hiding to buy his wife a birthday present, Ackerman decides that the only way that he can win respect from the other men is to have a fist fight with each one of them. He bravely takes on the hulking unit one at a time, and the bullies succeed in breaking his nose, tearing his ear, busting his ribs, and bruising his face. But the men in his unit are unable to destroy Ackerman's pride and sense of morality. Through his stubborn decision to defend his honor, elements of leadership emerge in Ackerman. His odyssey through the war is breathtaking and we follow his story, feeling connected intimately to this extraordinary, young man.

My father, Jay Dakelman, fought in the five major battles of World War II. He was a medic with the First Army Corps of Engineers. After waiting in England for nearly two years to invade the continent, my father was sent onto Normandy Beach on D-Day plus two. Like one of the characters in Shaw's novel, my father had purchased a Leica camera upon arriving in Britain, and my grandfather, who owned a pharmacy, sent him precious film so that Jay was able to document his experiences and travels during the war.

The Young Lions follows exactly the path that my father's photos document of the war; towns like Orly, St. Lo, and Caen are the places where the characters fight their way through to the end of the European War in Berlin. Like many soldiers of his generation, my father didn't talk about the battles, the blood, the horror. He told lots of stories about his friends and their escapades of riding on motorcycles and flirting with English and French girls. It was Irwin Shaw who told me the details that my soldier father, who narrowly escaped capture at the Battle of the Bulge, could not tell me. Shaw's descriptions of soldiers marching quietly through woods, dodging the bullets of the unseen enemy, swimming across waters holding onto comrades who could not swim so that they could arrive safely on shore, are the stories I did not hear from my Dad.

Near the conclusion of the book, the Americans come upon and liberate a concentration camp, which was another experience that my father encountered. In my naivete regarding what liberation was like for the prisoners, I would ask my father, “Weren't the prisoners jumping up and down, weren't they cheering for the Americans when you arrived?”

My father would reply, “No, Beth. It wasn't like that at all. The only thing the prisoners would ask is 'where's the chocolate? Do you have any chocolate?'” The skeletal remains of human beings were so starved that the only thing that mattered to them was food, not liberation, not the great, conquering American army.

My father also imparted that until his unit came upon the concentration camp, they had not been aware that such things existed. He had not heard any of the rumors about them. This passage taken from Shaw's novel paints the scene of exactly what the Americans saw when they came into the camps:

The men in the trucks fell quietly as they drove up to the open gates. The smell, by itself, would have been enough to make them silent, but there was also the sight of the dead bodies sprawled at the gate and behind the wire, and the slowly moving mass of scarecrows in tattered striped suits who engulfed the trucks and Captain Green's jeep in a monstrous tide. They did not make much noise. Many of them wept, many of them tried to smile, although the objective appearance of their skull-like faces and their staring, cavernous eyes did not alter very much, either in weeping or smiling. It was as though these creatures were too far sunk in a tragedy which had moved off the plane of human reaction onto an animal level of despair---and the comparatively sophisticated grimaces of welcome, sorrow and happiness were, for the time being, beyond their primitive reach.

Only a soldier who experienced the scope of World War II could have written a novel such as The Young Lions. Shaw served in North Africa as a private, and then waited in London during the preparations for the invasion of Normandy. After D-Day, Shaw and his unit followed the front lines and documented many of the of the most important moments of the war, including the liberation of Paris and the Dachau Concentration Camp.

After the war, the gifted Irwin Shaw got caught up in the maelstrom of the McCarthy era and he expatriated to Paris where he lived among other great writers. Ultimately, he moved to Switzerland where he penned the two wildly popular novels Rich Man, Poor Man and Beggerman, Thief, which were made into t.v. M

ini-series in the U.S.

In 1958 The Young Lions was produced as a movie, starring Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, a film that is remembered as a great war movie that like most films, deviated a little too far from the text. The major criticism of the film is Brando's softening of the German character, Christian Dienst. Nevertheless, it is a film worth seeing.

The Young Lions, in its rawness and reality, will remain one of the treasured novels to emerge from one of America's darkest periods. If you are a fan of military history, or if you love to read prose that is rich and honed like poetry, I urge you to savor Irwin Shaw's The Young Lions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

vvv

Retro Review

The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw (Random House, 1948)

 

The Young Lions, by Irwin Shaw, first appeared in 1948, only three years after the end of World War II. It remains a classic war novel, ranked with other greats such as The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk, Exodus by Leon Uris, and From Here to Eternity by James Jones. These authors, Wouk, Uris, Mailer, Jones, and Shaw, were different from the authors who are “writing” today. These post-World War II writers not only told great stories, they were craftsmen who made every word count, who agonized over character development, who wrote with eloquence and elegance, and who had to power to make the reader weep with the words that made him/her empathize with the characters.

The Young Lions follows the lives of three protagonists, Christian Dienst, Michael Whitacre, and Noah Ackerman. Ackerman's and Whitacre's war experiences become intertwined and eventually intersect with Dienst at the climax of the novel.

Dienst, a German, is a pretty boy ski instructor, who becomes a sergeant in the German army. While at first it seems that Dienst has a strand of humanitarianism in him, the course of the war, particularly the unbearable experiences that he suffers while on the African front, strip him of his ability to feel. Shaw's choice of name, Christian, becomes increasingly ironic as the novel unfolds, and Dienst's choices deteriorate in his struggle to survive.

One example of Dienst's descent into hell is when he wrongly identifies two French civilians as having killed Dienst's companion. The sergeant attends the execution of the two falsely convicted men, after which his Lieutenant observes, “They weren't the men at all, were they?” Christian hesitated, but only for a moment. “Frankly, Sir,” he replied, “I am not sure.” The Lieutenant smiled more broadly. “You're an intelligent man,” he said lightly. “The effect is the same. It proves to them that we are serious.” The fate of the two innocent Frenchmen had been in Christian's hands, but he cast aside their lives without even flinching at their bloody demise.

When the war breaks out Michael Whitacre is a writer, hard at work on a play in Hollywood. In the beginning of the story Whitacre and his wife, Laura, have a bitter argument in front of friends, and their marriage crumbles, leaving Michael unattached when he joins the military. In many ways Michael is lost, searching for a connection with anyone who can help him through the war with support and love. He uses the war to try to make sense of the world, and engages in philosophical conversations about the meaning of it all. However, through the course of the novel, Michael discovers himself and what feats of heroism he can achieve in the darkest of hours.

By far the most poignant and interesting character is little Noah Ackerman, a Jewish boy, newly married and wildly in love with his wife. Basic training becomes the ultimate nightmare for Ackerman as most of the men in his unit, including the commanding officer, despise him because he is a Jew. After experiencing numerous humiliations, including the theft of the ten dollars that he had been hiding to buy his wife a birthday present, Ackerman decides that the only way that he can win respect from the other men is to have a fist fight with each one of them. He bravely takes on the hulking unit one at a time, and the bullies succeed in breaking his nose, tearing his ear, busting his ribs, and bruising his face. But the men in his unit are unable to destroy Ackerman's pride and sense of morality. Through his stubborn decision to defend his honor, elements of leadership emerge in Ackerman. His odyssey through the war is breathtaking and we follow his story, feeling connected intimately to this extraordinary, young man.

My father, Jay Dakelman, fought in the five major battles of World War II. He was a medic with the First Army Corps of Engineers. After waiting in England for nearly two years to invade the continent, my father was sent onto Normandy Beach on D-Day plus two. Like one of the characters in Shaw's novel, my father had purchased a Leica camera upon arriving in Britain, and my grandfather, who owned a pharmacy, sent him precious film so that Jay was able to document his experiences and travels during the war.

The Young Lions follows exactly the path that my father's photos document of the war; towns like Orly, St. Lo, and Caen are the places where the characters fight their way through to the end of the European War in Berlin. Like many soldiers of his generation, my father didn't talk about the battles, the blood, the horror. He told lots of stories about his friends and their escapades of riding on motorcycles and flirting with English and French girls. It was Irwin Shaw who told me the details that my soldier father, who narrowly escaped capture at the Battle of the Bulge, could not tell me. Shaw's descriptions of soldiers marching quietly through woods, dodging the bullets of the unseen enemy, swimming across waters holding onto comrades who could not swim so that they could arrive safely on shore, are the stories I did not hear from my Dad.

Near the conclusion of the book, the Americans come upon and liberate a concentration camp, which was another experience that my father encountered. In my naivete regarding what liberation was like for the prisoners, I would ask my father, “Weren't the prisoners jumping up and down, weren't they cheering for the Americans when you arrived?”

My father would reply, “No, Beth. It wasn't like that at all. The only thing the prisoners would ask is 'where's the chocolate? Do you have any chocolate?'” The skeletal remains of human beings were so starved that the only thing that mattered to them was food, not liberation, not the great, conquering American army.

My father also imparted that until his unit came upon the concentration camp, they had not been aware that such things existed. He had not heard any of the rumors about them. This passage taken from Shaw's novel paints the scene of exactly what the Americans saw when they came into the camps:

The men in the trucks fell quietly as they drove up to the open gates. The smell, by itself, would have been enough to make them silent, but there was also the sight of the dead bodies sprawled at the gate and behind the wire, and the slowly moving mass of scarecrows in tattered striped suits who engulfed the trucks and Captain Green's jeep in a monstrous tide. They did not make much noise. Many of them wept, many of them tried to smile, although the objective appearance of their skull-like faces and their staring, cavernous eyes did not alter very much, either in weeping or smiling. It was as though these creatures were too far sunk in a tragedy which had moved off the plane of human reaction onto an animal level of despair---and the comparatively sophisticated grimaces of welcome, sorrow and happiness were, for the time being, beyond their primitive reach.

Only a soldier who experienced the scope of World War II could have written a novel such as The Young Lions. Shaw served in North Africa as a private, and then waited in London during the preparations for the invasion of Normandy. After D-Day, Shaw and his unit followed the front lines and documented many of the of the most important moments of the war, including the liberation of Paris and the Dachau Concentration Camp.

After the war, the gifted Irwin Shaw got caught up in the maelstrom of the McCarthy era and he expatriated to Paris where he lived among other great writers. Ultimately, he moved to Switzerland where he penned the two wildly popular novels Rich Man, Poor Man and Beggerman, Thief, which were made into t.v. M

ini-series in the U.S.

In 1958 The Young Lions was produced as a movie, starring Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, a film that is remembered as a great war movie that like most films, deviated a little too far from the text. The major criticism of the film is Brando's softening of the German character, Christian Dienst. Nevertheless, it is a film worth seeing.

The Young Lions, in its rawness and reality, will remain one of the treasured novels to emerge from one of America's darkest periods. If you are a fan of military history, or if you love to read prose that is rich and honed like poetry, I urge you to savor Irwin Shaw's The Young Lions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retro Review

The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw (Random House, 1948)

 

The Young Lions, by Irwin Shaw, first appeared in 1948, only three years after the end of World War II. It remains a classic war novel, ranked with other greats such as The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk, Exodus by Leon Uris, and From Here to Eternity by James Jones. These authors, Wouk, Uris, Mailer, Jones, and Shaw, were different from the authors who are “writing” today. These post-World War II writers not only told great stories, they were craftsmen who made every word count, who agonized over character development, who wrote with eloquence and elegance, and who had to power to make the reader weep with the words that made him/her empathize with the characters.

The Young Lions follows the lives of three protagonists, Christian Dienst, Michael Whitacre, and Noah Ackerman. Ackerman's and Whitacre's war experiences become intertwined and eventually intersect with Dienst at the climax of the novel.

Dienst, a German, is a pretty boy ski instructor, who becomes a sergeant in the German army. While at first it seems that Dienst has a strand of humanitarianism in him, the course of the war, particularly the unbearable experiences that he suffers while on the African front, strip him of his ability to feel. Shaw's choice of name, Christian, becomes increasingly ironic as the novel unfolds, and Dienst's choices deteriorate in his struggle to survive.

One example of Dienst's descent into hell is when he wrongly identifies two French civilians as having killed Dienst's companion. The sergeant attends the execution of the two falsely convicted men, after which his Lieutenant observes, “They weren't the men at all, were they?” Christian hesitated, but only for a moment. “Frankly, Sir,” he replied, “I am not sure.” The Lieutenant smiled more broadly. “You're an intelligent man,” he said lightly. “The effect is the same. It proves to them that we are serious.” The fate of the two innocent Frenchmen had been in Christian's hands, but he cast aside their lives without even flinching at their bloody demise.

When the war breaks out Michael Whitacre is a writer, hard at work on a play in Hollywood. In the beginning of the story Whitacre and his wife, Laura, have a bitter argument in front of friends, and their marriage crumbles, leaving Michael unattached when he joins the military. In many ways Michael is lost, searching for a connection with anyone who can help him through the war with support and love. He uses the war to try to make sense of the world, and engages in philosophical conversations about the meaning of it all. However, through the course of the novel, Michael discovers himself and what feats of heroism he can achieve in the darkest of hours.

By far the most poignant and interesting character is little Noah Ackerman, a Jewish boy, newly married and wildly in love with his wife. Basic training becomes the ultimate nightmare for Ackerman as most of the men in his unit, including the commanding officer, despise him because he is a Jew. After experiencing numerous humiliations, including the theft of the ten dollars that he had been hiding to buy his wife a birthday present, Ackerman decides that the only way that he can win respect from the other men is to have a fist fight with each one of them. He bravely takes on the hulking unit one at a time, and the bullies succeed in breaking his nose, tearing his ear, busting his ribs, and bruising his face. But the men in his unit are unable to destroy Ackerman's pride and sense of morality. Through his stubborn decision to defend his honor, elements of leadership emerge in Ackerman. His odyssey through the war is breathtaking and we follow his story, feeling connected intimately to this extraordinary, young man.

My father, Jay Dakelman, fought in the five major battles of World War II. He was a medic with the First Army Corps of Engineers. After waiting in England for nearly two years to invade the continent, my father was sent onto Normandy Beach on D-Day plus two. Like one of the characters in Shaw's novel, my father had purchased a Leica camera upon arriving in Britain, and my grandfather, who owned a pharmacy, sent him precious film so that Jay was able to document his experiences and travels during the war.

The Young Lions follows exactly the path that my father's photos document of the war; towns like Orly, St. Lo, and Caen are the places where the characters fight their way through to the end of the European War in Berlin. Like many soldiers of his generation, my father didn't talk about the battles, the blood, the horror. He told lots of stories about his friends and their escapades of riding on motorcycles and flirting with English and French girls. It was Irwin Shaw who told me the details that my soldier father, who narrowly escaped capture at the Battle of the Bulge, could not tell me. Shaw's descriptions of soldiers marching quietly through woods, dodging the bullets of the unseen enemy, swimming across waters holding onto comrades who could not swim so that they could arrive safely on shore, are the stories I did not hear from my Dad.

Near the conclusion of the book, the Americans come upon and liberate a concentration camp, which was another experience that my father encountered. In my naivete regarding what liberation was like for the prisoners, I would ask my father, “Weren't the prisoners jumping up and down, weren't they cheering for the Americans when you arrived?”

My father would reply, “No, Beth. It wasn't like that at all. The only thing the prisoners would ask is 'where's the chocolate? Do you have any chocolate?'” The skeletal remains of human beings were so starved that the only thing that mattered to them was food, not liberation, not the great, conquering American army.

My father also imparted that until his unit came upon the concentration camp, they had not been aware that such things existed. He had not heard any of the rumors about them. This passage taken from Shaw's novel paints the scene of exactly what the Americans saw when they came into the camps:

The men in the trucks fell quietly as they drove up to the open gates. The smell, by itself, would have been enough to make them silent, but there was also the sight of the dead bodies sprawled at the gate and behind the wire, and the slowly moving mass of scarecrows in tattered striped suits who engulfed the trucks and Captain Green's jeep in a monstrous tide. They did not make much noise. Many of them wept, many of them tried to smile, although the objective appearance of their skull-like faces and their staring, cavernous eyes did not alter very much, either in weeping or smiling. It was as though these creatures were too far sunk in a tragedy which had moved off the plane of human reaction onto an animal level of despair---and the comparatively sophisticated grimaces of welcome, sorrow and happiness were, for the time being, beyond their primitive reach.

Only a soldier who experienced the scope of World War II could have written a novel such as The Young Lions. Shaw served in North Africa as a private, and then waited in London during the preparations for the invasion of Normandy. After D-Day, Shaw and his unit followed the front lines and documented many of the of the most important moments of the war, including the liberation of Paris and the Dachau Concentration Camp.

After the war, the gifted Irwin Shaw got caught up in the maelstrom of the McCarthy era and he expatriated to Paris where he lived among other great writers. Ultimately, he moved to Switzerland where he penned the two wildly popular novels Rich Man, Poor Man and Beggerman, Thief, which were made into t.v. M

ini-series in the U.S.

In 1958 The Young Lions was produced as a movie, starring Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, a film that is remembered as a great war movie that like most films, deviated a little too far from the text. The major criticism of the film is Brando's softening of the German character, Christian Dienst. Nevertheless, it is a film worth seeing.

The Young Lions, in its rawness and reality, will remain one of the treasured novels to emerge from one of America's darkest periods. If you are a fan of military history, or if you love to read prose that is rich and honed like poetry, I urge you to savor Irwin Shaw's The Young Lions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retro Review

The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw (Random House, 1948)

 

The Young Lions, by Irwin Shaw, first appeared in 1948, only three years after the end of World War II. It remains a classic war novel, ranked with other greats such as The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk, Exodus by Leon Uris, and From Here to Eternity by James Jones. These authors, Wouk, Uris, Mailer, Jones, and Shaw, were different from the authors who are “writing” today. These post-World War II writers not only told great stories, they were craftsmen who made every word count, who agonized over character development, who wrote with eloquence and elegance, and who had to power to make the reader weep with the words that made him/her empathize with the characters.

The Young Lions follows the lives of three protagonists, Christian Dienst, Michael Whitacre, and Noah Ackerman. Ackerman's and Whitacre's war experiences become intertwined and eventually intersect with Dienst at the climax of the novel.

Dienst, a German, is a pretty boy ski instructor, who becomes a sergeant in the German army. While at first it seems that Dienst has a strand of humanitarianism in him, the course of the war, particularly the unbearable experiences that he suffers while on the African front, strip him of his ability to feel. Shaw's choice of name, Christian, becomes increasingly ironic as the novel unfolds, and Dienst's choices deteriorate in his struggle to survive.

One example of Dienst's descent into hell is when he wrongly identifies two French civilians as having killed Dienst's companion. The sergeant attends the execution of the two falsely convicted men, after which his Lieutenant observes, “They weren't the men at all, were they?” Christian hesitated, but only for a moment. “Frankly, Sir,” he replied, “I am not sure.” The Lieutenant smiled more broadly. “You're an intelligent man,” he said lightly. “The effect is the same. It proves to them that we are serious.” The fate of the two innocent Frenchmen had been in Christian's hands, but he cast aside their lives without even flinching at their bloody demise.

When the war breaks out Michael Whitacre is a writer, hard at work on a play in Hollywood. In the beginning of the story Whitacre and his wife, Laura, have a bitter argument in front of friends, and their marriage crumbles, leaving Michael unattached when he joins the military. In many ways Michael is lost, searching for a connection with anyone who can help him through the war with support and love. He uses the war to try to make sense of the world, and engages in philosophical conversations about the meaning of it all. However, through the course of the novel, Michael discovers himself and what feats of heroism he can achieve in the darkest of hours.

By far the most poignant and interesting character is little Noah Ackerman, a Jewish boy, newly married and wildly in love with his wife. Basic training becomes the ultimate nightmare for Ackerman as most of the men in his unit, including the commanding officer, despise him because he is a Jew. After experiencing numerous humiliations, including the theft of the ten dollars that he had been hiding to buy his wife a birthday present, Ackerman decides that the only way that he can win respect from the other men is to have a fist fight with each one of them. He bravely takes on the hulking unit one at a time, and the bullies succeed in breaking his nose, tearing his ear, busting his ribs, and bruising his face. But the men in his unit are unable to destroy Ackerman's pride and sense of morality. Through his stubborn decision to defend his honor, elements of leadership emerge in Ackerman. His odyssey through the war is breathtaking and we follow his story, feeling connected intimately to this extraordinary, young man.

My father, Jay Dakelman, fought in the five major battles of World War II. He was a medic with the First Army Corps of Engineers. After waiting in England for nearly two years to invade the continent, my father was sent onto Normandy Beach on D-Day plus two. Like one of the characters in Shaw's novel, my father had purchased a Leica camera upon arriving in Britain, and my grandfather, who owned a pharmacy, sent him precious film so that Jay was able to document his experiences and travels during the war.

The Young Lions follows exactly the path that my father's photos document of the war; towns like Orly, St. Lo, and Caen are the places where the characters fight their way through to the end of the European War in Berlin. Like many soldiers of his generation, my father didn't talk about the battles, the blood, the horror. He told lots of stories about his friends and their escapades of riding on motorcycles and flirting with English and French girls. It was Irwin Shaw who told me the details that my soldier father, who narrowly escaped capture at the Battle of the Bulge, could not tell me. Shaw's descriptions of soldiers marching quietly through woods, dodging the bullets of the unseen enemy, swimming across waters holding onto comrades who could not swim so that they could arrive safely on shore, are the stories I did not hear from my Dad.

Near the conclusion of the book, the Americans come upon and liberate a concentration camp, which was another experience that my father encountered. In my naivete regarding what liberation was like for the prisoners, I would ask my father, “Weren't the prisoners jumping up and down, weren't they cheering for the Americans when you arrived?”

My father would reply, “No, Beth. It wasn't like that at all. The only thing the prisoners would ask is 'where's the chocolate? Do you have any chocolate?'” The skeletal remains of human beings were so starved that the only thing that mattered to them was food, not liberation, not the great, conquering American army.

My father also imparted that until his unit came upon the concentration camp, they had not been aware that such things existed. He had not heard any of the rumors about them. This passage taken from Shaw's novel paints the scene of exactly what the Americans saw when they came into the camps:

The men in the trucks fell quietly as they drove up to the open gates. The smell, by itself, would have been enough to make them silent, but there was also the sight of the dead bodies sprawled at the gate and behind the wire, and the slowly moving mass of scarecrows in tattered striped suits who engulfed the trucks and Captain Green's jeep in a monstrous tide. They did not make much noise. Many of them wept, many of them tried to smile, although the objective appearance of their skull-like faces and their staring, cavernous eyes did not alter very much, either in weeping or smiling. It was as though these creatures were too far sunk in a tragedy which had moved off the plane of human reaction onto an animal level of despair---and the comparatively sophisticated grimaces of welcome, sorrow and happiness were, for the time being, beyond their primitive reach.

Only a soldier who experienced the scope of World War II could have written a novel such as The Young Lions. Shaw served in North Africa as a private, and then waited in London during the preparations for the invasion of Normandy. After D-Day, Shaw and his unit followed the front lines and documented many of the of the most important moments of the war, including the liberation of Paris and the Dachau Concentration Camp.

After the war, the gifted Irwin Shaw got caught up in the maelstrom of the McCarthy era and he expatriated to Paris where he lived among other great writers. Ultimately, he moved to Switzerland where he penned the two wildly popular novels Rich Man, Poor Man and Beggerman, Thief, which were made into t.v. M

ini-series in the U.S.

In 1958 The Young Lions was produced as a movie, starring Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, a film that is remembered as a great war movie that like most films, deviated a little too far from the text. The major criticism of the film is Brando's softening of the German character, Christian Dienst. Nevertheless, it is a film worth seeing.

The Young Lions, in its rawness and reality, will remain one of the treasured novels to emerge from one of America's darkest periods. If you are a fan of military history, or if you love to read prose that is rich and honed like poetry, I urge you to savor Irwin Shaw's The Young Lions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retro Review

The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw (Random House, 1948)

 

The Young Lions, by Irwin Shaw, first appeared in 1948, only three years after the end of World War II. It remains a classic war novel, ranked with other greats such as The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk, Exodus by Leon Uris, and From Here to Eternity by James Jones. These authors, Wouk, Uris, Mailer, Jones, and Shaw, were different from the authors who are “writing” today. These post-World War II writers not only told great stories, they were craftsmen who made every word count, who agonized over character development, who wrote with eloquence and elegance, and who had to power to make the reader weep with the words that made him/her empathize with the characters.

The Young Lions follows the lives of three protagonists, Christian Dienst, Michael Whitacre, and Noah Ackerman. Ackerman's and Whitacre's war experiences become intertwined and eventually intersect with Dienst at the climax of the novel.

Dienst, a German, is a pretty boy ski instructor, who becomes a sergeant in the German army. While at first it seems that Dienst has a strand of humanitarianism in him, the course of the war, particularly the unbearable experiences that he suffers while on the African front, strip him of his ability to feel. Shaw's choice of name, Christian, becomes increasingly ironic as the novel unfolds, and Dienst's choices deteriorate in his struggle to survive.

One example of Dienst's descent into hell is when he wrongly identifies two French civilians as having killed Dienst's companion. The sergeant attends the execution of the two falsely convicted men, after which his Lieutenant observes, “They weren't the men at all, were they?” Christian hesitated, but only for a moment. “Frankly, Sir,” he replied, “I am not sure.” The Lieutenant smiled more broadly. “You're an intelligent man,” he said lightly. “The effect is the same. It proves to them that we are serious.” The fate of the two innocent Frenchmen had been in Christian's hands, but he cast aside their lives without even flinching at their bloody demise.

When the war breaks out Michael Whitacre is a writer, hard at work on a play in Hollywood. In the beginning of the story Whitacre and his wife, Laura, have a bitter argument in front of friends, and their marriage crumbles, leaving Michael unattached when he joins the military. In many ways Michael is lost, searching for a connection with anyone who can help him through the war with support and love. He uses the war to try to make sense of the world, and engages in philosophical conversations about the meaning of it all. However, through the course of the novel, Michael discovers himself and what feats of heroism he can achieve in the darkest of hours.

By far the most poignant and interesting character is little Noah Ackerman, a Jewish boy, newly married and wildly in love with his wife. Basic training becomes the ultimate nightmare for Ackerman as most of the men in his unit, including the commanding officer, despise him because he is a Jew. After experiencing numerous humiliations, including the theft of the ten dollars that he had been hiding to buy his wife a birthday present, Ackerman decides that the only way that he can win respect from the other men is to have a fist fight with each one of them. He bravely takes on the hulking unit one at a time, and the bullies succeed in breaking his nose, tearing his ear, busting his ribs, and bruising his face. But the men in his unit are unable to destroy Ackerman's pride and sense of morality. Through his stubborn decision to defend his honor, elements of leadership emerge in Ackerman. His odyssey through the war is breathtaking and we follow his story, feeling connected intimately to this extraordinary, young man.

My father, Jay Dakelman, fought in the five major battles of World War II. He was a medic with the First Army Corps of Engineers. After waiting in England for nearly two years to invade the continent, my father was sent onto Normandy Beach on D-Day plus two. Like one of the characters in Shaw's novel, my father had purchased a Leica camera upon arriving in Britain, and my grandfather, who owned a pharmacy, sent him precious film so that Jay was able to document his experiences and travels during the war.

The Young Lions follows exactly the path that my father's photos document of the war; towns like Orly, St. Lo, and Caen are the places where the characters fight their way through to the end of the European War in Berlin. Like many soldiers of his generation, my father didn't talk about the battles, the blood, the horror. He told lots of stories about his friends and their escapades of riding on motorcycles and flirting with English and French girls. It was Irwin Shaw who told me the details that my soldier father, who narrowly escaped capture at the Battle of the Bulge, could not tell me. Shaw's descriptions of soldiers marching quietly through woods, dodging the bullets of the unseen enemy, swimming across waters holding onto comrades who could not swim so that they could arrive safely on shore, are the stories I did not hear from my Dad.

Near the conclusion of the book, the Americans come upon and liberate a concentration camp, which was another experience that my father encountered. In my naivete regarding what liberation was like for the prisoners, I would ask my father, “Weren't the prisoners jumping up and down, weren't they cheering for the Americans when you arrived?”

My father would reply, “No, Beth. It wasn't like that at all. The only thing the prisoners would ask is 'where's the chocolate? Do you have any chocolate?'” The skeletal remains of human beings were so starved that the only thing that mattered to them was food, not liberation, not the great, conquering American army.

My father also imparted that until his unit came upon the concentration camp, they had not been aware that such things existed. He had not heard any of the rumors about them. This passage taken from Shaw's novel paints the scene of exactly what the Americans saw when they came into the camps:

The men in the trucks fell quietly as they drove up to the open gates. The smell, by itself, would have been enough to make them silent, but there was also the sight of the dead bodies sprawled at the gate and behind the wire, and the slowly moving mass of scarecrows in tattered striped suits who engulfed the trucks and Captain Green's jeep in a monstrous tide. They did not make much noise. Many of them wept, many of them tried to smile, although the objective appearance of their skull-like faces and their staring, cavernous eyes did not alter very much, either in weeping or smiling. It was as though these creatures were too far sunk in a tragedy which had moved off the plane of human reaction onto an animal level of despair---and the comparatively sophisticated grimaces of welcome, sorrow and happiness were, for the time being, beyond their primitive reach.

Only a soldier who experienced the scope of World War II could have written a novel such as The Young Lions. Shaw served in North Africa as a private, and then waited in London during the preparations for the invasion of Normandy. After D-Day, Shaw and his unit followed the front lines and documented many of the of the most important moments of the war, including the liberation of Paris and the Dachau Concentration Camp.

After the war, the gifted Irwin Shaw got caught up in the maelstrom of the McCarthy era and he expatriated to Paris where he lived among other great writers. Ultimately, he moved to Switzerland where he penned the two wildly popular novels Rich Man, Poor Man and Beggerman, Thief, which were made into t.v. M

ini-series in the U.S.

In 1958 The Young Lions was produced as a movie, starring Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, a film that is remembered as a great war movie that like most films, deviated a little too far from the text. The major criticism of the film is Brando's softening of the German character, Christian Dienst. Nevertheless, it is a film worth seeing.

The Young Lions, in its rawness and reality, will remain one of the treasured novels to emerge from one of America's darkest periods. If you are a fan of military history, or if you love to read prose that is rich and honed like poetry, I urge you to savor Irwin Shaw's The Young Lions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retro Review

The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw (Random House, 1948)

 

The Young Lions, by Irwin Shaw, first appeared in 1948, only three years after the end of World War II. It remains a classic war novel, ranked with other greats such as The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk, Exodus by Leon Uris, and From Here to Eternity by James Jones. These authors, Wouk, Uris, Mailer, Jones, and Shaw, were different from the authors who are “writing” today. These post-World War II writers not only told great stories, they were craftsmen who made every word count, who agonized over character development, who wrote with eloquence and elegance, and who had to power to make the reader weep with the words that made him/her empathize with the characters.

The Young Lions follows the lives of three protagonists, Christian Dienst, Michael Whitacre, and Noah Ackerman. Ackerman's and Whitacre's war experiences become intertwined and eventually intersect with Dienst at the climax of the novel.

Dienst, a German, is a pretty boy ski instructor, who becomes a sergeant in the German army. While at first it seems that Dienst has a strand of humanitarianism in him, the course of the war, particularly the unbearable experiences that he suffers while on the African front, strip him of his ability to feel. Shaw's choice of name, Christian, becomes increasingly ironic as the novel unfolds, and Dienst's choices deteriorate in his struggle to survive.

One example of Dienst's descent into hell is when he wrongly identifies two French civilians as having killed Dienst's companion. The sergeant attends the execution of the two falsely convicted men, after which his Lieutenant observes, “They weren't the men at all, were they?” Christian hesitated, but only for a moment. “Frankly, Sir,” he replied, “I am not sure.” The Lieutenant smiled more broadly. “You're an intelligent man,” he said lightly. “The effect is the same. It proves to them that we are serious.” The fate of the two innocent Frenchmen had been in Christian's hands, but he cast aside their lives without even flinching at their bloody demise.

When the war breaks out Michael Whitacre is a writer, hard at work on a play in Hollywood. In the beginning of the story Whitacre and his wife, Laura, have a bitter argument in front of friends, and their marriage crumbles, leaving Michael unattached when he joins the military. In many ways Michael is lost, searching for a connection with anyone who can help him through the war with support and love. He uses the war to try to make sense of the world, and engages in philosophical conversations about the meaning of it all. However, through the course of the novel, Michael discovers himself and what feats of heroism he can achieve in the darkest of hours.

By far the most poignant and interesting character is little Noah Ackerman, a Jewish boy, newly married and wildly in love with his wife. Basic training becomes the ultimate nightmare for Ackerman as most of the men in his unit, including the commanding officer, despise him because he is a Jew. After experiencing numerous humiliations, including the theft of the ten dollars that he had been hiding to buy his wife a birthday present, Ackerman decides that the only way that he can win respect from the other men is to have a fist fight with each one of them. He bravely takes on the hulking unit one at a time, and the bullies succeed in breaking his nose, tearing his ear, busting his ribs, and bruising his face. But the men in his unit are unable to destroy Ackerman's pride and sense of morality. Through his stubborn decision to defend his honor, elements of leadership emerge in Ackerman. His odyssey through the war is breathtaking and we follow his story, feeling connected intimately to this extraordinary, young man.

My father, Jay Dakelman, fought in the five major battles of World War II. He was a medic with the First Army Corps of Engineers. After waiting in England for nearly two years to invade the continent, my father was sent onto Normandy Beach on D-Day plus two. Like one of the characters in Shaw's novel, my father had purchased a Leica camera upon arriving in Britain, and my grandfather, who owned a pharmacy, sent him precious film so that Jay was able to document his experiences and travels during the war.

The Young Lions follows exactly the path that my father's photos document of the war; towns like Orly, St. Lo, and Caen are the places where the characters fight their way through to the end of the European War in Berlin. Like many soldiers of his generation, my father didn't talk about the battles, the blood, the horror. He told lots of stories about his friends and their escapades of riding on motorcycles and flirting with English and French girls. It was Irwin Shaw who told me the details that my soldier father, who narrowly escaped capture at the Battle of the Bulge, could not tell me. Shaw's descriptions of soldiers marching quietly through woods, dodging the bullets of the unseen enemy, swimming across waters holding onto comrades who could not swim so that they could arrive safely on shore, are the stories I did not hear from my Dad.

Near the conclusion of the book, the Americans come upon and liberate a concentration camp, which was another experience that my father encountered. In my naivete regarding what liberation was like for the prisoners, I would ask my father, “Weren't the prisoners jumping up and down, weren't they cheering for the Americans when you arrived?”

My father would reply, “No, Beth. It wasn't like that at all. The only thing the prisoners would ask is 'where's the chocolate? Do you have any chocolate?'” The skeletal remains of human beings were so starved that the only thing that mattered to them was food, not liberation, not the great, conquering American army.

My father also imparted that until his unit came upon the concentration camp, they had not been aware that such things existed. He had not heard any of the rumors about them. This passage taken from Shaw's novel paints the scene of exactly what the Americans saw when they came into the camps:

The men in the trucks fell quietly as they drove up to the open gates. The smell, by itself, would have been enough to make them silent, but there was also the sight of the dead bodies sprawled at the gate and behind the wire, and the slowly moving mass of scarecrows in tattered striped suits who engulfed the trucks and Captain Green's jeep in a monstrous tide. They did not make much noise. Many of them wept, many of them tried to smile, although the objective appearance of their skull-like faces and their staring, cavernous eyes did not alter very much, either in weeping or smiling. It was as though these creatures were too far sunk in a tragedy which had moved off the plane of human reaction onto an animal level of despair---and the comparatively sophisticated grimaces of welcome, sorrow and happiness were, for the time being, beyond their primitive reach.

Only a soldier who experienced the scope of World War II could have written a novel such as The Young Lions. Shaw served in North Africa as a private, and then waited in London during the preparations for the invasion of Normandy. After D-Day, Shaw and his unit followed the front lines and documented many of the of the most important moments of the war, including the liberation of Paris and the Dachau Concentration Camp.

After the war, the gifted Irwin Shaw got caught up in the maelstrom of the McCarthy era and he expatriated to Paris where he lived among other great writers. Ultimately, he moved to Switzerland where he penned the two wildly popular novels Rich Man, Poor Man and Beggerman, Thief, which were made into t.v. M

ini-series in the U.S.

In 1958 The Young Lions was produced as a movie, starring Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, a film that is remembered as a great war movie that like most films, deviated a little too far from the text. The major criticism of the film is Brando's softening of the German character, Christian Dienst. Nevertheless, it is a film worth seeing.

The Young Lions, in its rawness and reality, will remain one of the treasured novels to emerge from one of America's darkest periods. If you are a fan of military history, or if you love to read prose that is rich and honed like poetry, I urge you to savor Irwin Shaw's The Young Lions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retro Review

The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw (Random House, 1948)

 

The Young Lions, by Irwin Shaw, first appeared in 1948, only three years after the end of World War II. It remains a classic war novel, ranked with other greats such as The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk, Exodus by Leon Uris, and From Here to Eternity by James Jones. These authors, Wouk, Uris, Mailer, Jones, and Shaw, were different from the authors who are “writing” today. These post-World War II writers not only told great stories, they were craftsmen who made every word count, who agonized over character development, who wrote with eloquence and elegance, and who had to power to make the reader weep with the words that made him/her empathize with the characters.

The Young Lions follows the lives of three protagonists, Christian Dienst, Michael Whitacre, and Noah Ackerman. Ackerman's and Whitacre's war experiences become intertwined and eventually intersect with Dienst at the climax of the novel.

Dienst, a German, is a pretty boy ski instructor, who becomes a sergeant in the German army. While at first it seems that Dienst has a strand of humanitarianism in him, the course of the war, particularly the unbearable experiences that he suffers while on the African front, strip him of his ability to feel. Shaw's choice of name, Christian, becomes increasingly ironic as the novel unfolds, and Dienst's choices deteriorate in his struggle to survive.

One example of Dienst's descent into hell is when he wrongly identifies two French civilians as having killed Dienst's companion. The sergeant attends the execution of the two falsely convicted men, after which his Lieutenant observes, “They weren't the men at all, were they?” Christian hesitated, but only for a moment. “Frankly, Sir,” he replied, “I am not sure.” The Lieutenant smiled more broadly. “You're an intelligent man,” he said lightly. “The effect is the same. It proves to them that we are serious.” The fate of the two innocent Frenchmen had been in Christian's hands, but he cast aside their lives without even flinching at their bloody demise.

When the war breaks out Michael Whitacre is a writer, hard at work on a play in Hollywood. In the beginning of the story Whitacre and his wife, Laura, have a bitter argument in front of friends, and their marriage crumbles, leaving Michael unattached when he joins the military. In many ways Michael is lost, searching for a connection with anyone who can help him through the war with support and love. He uses the war to try to make sense of the world, and engages in philosophical conversations about the meaning of it all. However, through the course of the novel, Michael discovers himself and what feats of heroism he can achieve in the darkest of hours.

By far the most poignant and interesting character is little Noah Ackerman, a Jewish boy, newly married and wildly in love with his wife. Basic training becomes the ultimate nightmare for Ackerman as most of the men in his unit, including the commanding officer, despise him because he is a Jew. After experiencing numerous humiliations, including the theft of the ten dollars that he had been hiding to buy his wife a birthday present, Ackerman decides that the only way that he can win respect from the other men is to have a fist fight with each one of them. He bravely takes on the hulking unit one at a time, and the bullies succeed in breaking his nose, tearing his ear, busting his ribs, and bruising his face. But the men in his unit are unable to destroy Ackerman's pride and sense of morality. Through his stubborn decision to defend his honor, elements of leadership emerge in Ackerman. His odyssey through the war is breathtaking and we follow his story, feeling connected intimately to this extraordinary, young man.

My father, Jay Dakelman, fought in the five major battles of World War II. He was a medic with the First Army Corps of Engineers. After waiting in England for nearly two years to invade the continent, my father was sent onto Normandy Beach on D-Day plus two. Like one of the characters in Shaw's novel, my father had purchased a Leica camera upon arriving in Britain, and my grandfather, who owned a pharmacy, sent him precious film so that Jay was able to document his experiences and travels during the war.

The Young Lions follows exactly the path that my father's photos document of the war; towns like Orly, St. Lo, and Caen are the places where the characters fight their way through to the end of the European War in Berlin. Like many soldiers of his generation, my father didn't talk about the battles, the blood, the horror. He told lots of stories about his friends and their escapades of riding on motorcycles and flirting with English and French girls. It was Irwin Shaw who told me the details that my soldier father, who narrowly escaped capture at the Battle of the Bulge, could not tell me. Shaw's descriptions of soldiers marching quietly through woods, dodging the bullets of the unseen enemy, swimming across waters holding onto comrades who could not swim so that they could arrive safely on shore, are the stories I did not hear from my Dad.

Near the conclusion of the book, the Americans come upon and liberate a concentration camp, which was another experience that my father encountered. In my naivete regarding what liberation was like for the prisoners, I would ask my father, “Weren't the prisoners jumping up and down, weren't they cheering for the Americans when you arrived?”

My father would reply, “No, Beth. It wasn't like that at all. The only thing the prisoners would ask is 'where's the chocolate? Do you have any chocolate?'” The skeletal remains of human beings were so starved that the only thing that mattered to them was food, not liberation, not the great, conquering American army.

My father also imparted that until his unit came upon the concentration camp, they had not been aware that such things existed. He had not heard any of the rumors about them. This passage taken from Shaw's novel paints the scene of exactly what the Americans saw when they came into the camps:

The men in the trucks fell quietly as they drove up to the open gates. The smell, by itself, would have been enough to make them silent, but there was also the sight of the dead bodies sprawled at the gate and behind the wire, and the slowly moving mass of scarecrows in tattered striped suits who engulfed the trucks and Captain Green's jeep in a monstrous tide. They did not make much noise. Many of them wept, many of them tried to smile, although the objective appearance of their skull-like faces and their staring, cavernous eyes did not alter very much, either in weeping or smiling. It was as though these creatures were too far sunk in a tragedy which had moved off the plane of human reaction onto an animal level of despair---and the comparatively sophisticated grimaces of welcome, sorrow and happiness were, for the time being, beyond their primitive reach.

Only a soldier who experienced the scope of World War II could have written a novel such as The Young Lions. Shaw served in North Africa as a private, and then waited in London during the preparations for the invasion of Normandy. After D-Day, Shaw and his unit followed the front lines and documented many of the of the most important moments of the war, including the liberation of Paris and the Dachau Concentration Camp.

After the war, the gifted Irwin Shaw got caught up in the maelstrom of the McCarthy era and he expatriated to Paris where he lived among other great writers. Ultimately, he moved to Switzerland where he penned the two wildly popular novels Rich Man, Poor Man and Beggerman, Thief, which were made into t.v. M

ini-series in the U.S.

In 1958 The Young Lions was produced as a movie, starring Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, a film that is remembered as a great war movie that like most films, deviated a little too far from the text. The major criticism of the film is Brando's softening of the German character, Christian Dienst. Nevertheless, it is a film worth seeing.

The Young Lions, in its rawness and reality, will remain one of the treasured novels to emerge from one of America's darkest periods. If you are a fan of military history, or if you love to read prose that is rich and honed like poetry, I urge you to savor Irwin Shaw's The Young Lions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retro Review

The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw (Random House, 1948)

 

The Young Lions, by Irwin Shaw, first appeared in 1948, only three years after the end of World War II. It remains a classic war novel, ranked with other greats such as The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk, Exodus by Leon Uris, and From Here to Eternity by James Jones. These authors, Wouk, Uris, Mailer, Jones, and Shaw, were different from the authors who are “writing” today. These post-World War II writers not only told great stories, they were craftsmen who made every word count, who agonized over character development, who wrote with eloquence and elegance, and who had to power to make the reader weep with the words that made him/her empathize with the characters.

The Young Lions follows the lives of three protagonists, Christian Dienst, Michael Whitacre, and Noah Ackerman. Ackerman's and Whitacre's war experiences become intertwined and eventually intersect with Dienst at the climax of the novel.

Dienst, a German, is a pretty boy ski instructor, who becomes a sergeant in the German army. While at first it seems that Dienst has a strand of humanitarianism in him, the course of the war, particularly the unbearable experiences that he suffers while on the African front, strip him of his ability to feel. Shaw's choice of name, Christian, becomes increasingly ironic as the novel unfolds, and Dienst's choices deteriorate in his struggle to survive.

One example of Dienst's descent into hell is when he wrongly identifies two French civilians as having killed Dienst's companion. The sergeant attends the execution of the two falsely convicted men, after which his Lieutenant observes, “They weren't the men at all, were they?” Christian hesitated, but only for a moment. “Frankly, Sir,” he replied, “I am not sure.” The Lieutenant smiled more broadly. “You're an intelligent man,” he said lightly. “The effect is the same. It proves to them that we are serious.” The fate of the two innocent Frenchmen had been in Christian's hands, but he cast aside their lives without even flinching at their bloody demise.

When the war breaks out Michael Whitacre is a writer, hard at work on a play in Hollywood. In the beginning of the story Whitacre and his wife, Laura, have a bitter argument in front of friends, and their marriage crumbles, leaving Michael unattached when he joins the military. In many ways Michael is lost, searching for a connection with anyone who can help him through the war with support and love. He uses the war to try to make sense of the world, and engages in philosophical conversations about the meaning of it all. However, through the course of the novel, Michael discovers himself and what feats of heroism he can achieve in the darkest of hours.

By far the most poignant and interesting character is little Noah Ackerman, a Jewish boy, newly married and wildly in love with his wife. Basic training becomes the ultimate nightmare for Ackerman as most of the men in his unit, including the commanding officer, despise him because he is a Jew. After experiencing numerous humiliations, including the theft of the ten dollars that he had been hiding to buy his wife a birthday present, Ackerman decides that the only way that he can win respect from the other men is to have a fist fight with each one of them. He bravely takes on the hulking unit one at a time, and the bullies succeed in breaking his nose, tearing his ear, busting his ribs, and bruising his face. But the men in his unit are unable to destroy Ackerman's pride and sense of morality. Through his stubborn decision to defend his honor, elements of leadership emerge in Ackerman. His odyssey through the war is breathtaking and we follow his story, feeling connected intimately to this extraordinary, young man.

My father, Jay Dakelman, fought in the five major battles of World War II. He was a medic with the First Army Corps of Engineers. After waiting in England for nearly two years to invade the continent, my father was sent onto Normandy Beach on D-Day plus two. Like one of the characters in Shaw's novel, my father had purchased a Leica camera upon arriving in Britain, and my grandfather, who owned a pharmacy, sent him precious film so that Jay was able to document his experiences and travels during the war.

The Young Lions follows exactly the path that my father's photos document of the war; towns like Orly, St. Lo, and Caen are the places where the characters fight their way through to the end of the European War in Berlin. Like many soldiers of his generation, my father didn't talk about the battles, the blood, the horror. He told lots of stories about his friends and their escapades of riding on motorcycles and flirting with English and French girls. It was Irwin Shaw who told me the details that my soldier father, who narrowly escaped capture at the Battle of the Bulge, could not tell me. Shaw's descriptions of soldiers marching quietly through woods, dodging the bullets of the unseen enemy, swimming across waters holding onto comrades who could not swim so that they could arrive safely on shore, are the stories I did not hear from my Dad.

Near the conclusion of the book, the Americans come upon and liberate a concentration camp, which was another experience that my father encountered. In my naivete regarding what liberation was like for the prisoners, I would ask my father, “Weren't the prisoners jumping up and down, weren't they cheering for the Americans when you arrived?”

My father would reply, “No, Beth. It wasn't like that at all. The only thing the prisoners would ask is 'where's the chocolate? Do you have any chocolate?'” The skeletal remains of human beings were so starved that the only thing that mattered to them was food, not liberation, not the great, conquering American army.

My father also imparted that until his unit came upon the concentration camp, they had not been aware that such things existed. He had not heard any of the rumors about them. This passage taken from Shaw's novel paints the scene of exactly what the Americans saw when they came into the camps:

The men in the trucks fell quietly as they drove up to the open gates. The smell, by itself, would have been enough to make them silent, but there was also the sight of the dead bodies sprawled at the gate and behind the wire, and the slowly moving mass of scarecrows in tattered striped suits who engulfed the trucks and Captain Green's jeep in a monstrous tide. They did not make much noise. Many of them wept, many of them tried to smile, although the objective appearance of their skull-like faces and their staring, cavernous eyes did not alter very much, either in weeping or smiling. It was as though these creatures were too far sunk in a tragedy which had moved off the plane of human reaction onto an animal level of despair---and the comparatively sophisticated grimaces of welcome, sorrow and happiness were, for the time being, beyond their primitive reach.

Only a soldier who experienced the scope of World War II could have written a novel such as The Young Lions. Shaw served in North Africa as a private, and then waited in London during the preparations for the invasion of Normandy. After D-Day, Shaw and his unit followed the front lines and documented many of the of the most important moments of the war, including the liberation of Paris and the Dachau Concentration Camp.

After the war, the gifted Irwin Shaw got caught up in the maelstrom of the McCarthy era and he expatriated to Paris where he lived among other great writers. Ultimately, he moved to Switzerland where he penned the two wildly popular novels Rich Man, Poor Man and Beggerman, Thief, which were made into t.v. M

ini-series in the U.S.

In 1958 The Young Lions was produced as a movie, starring Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, a film that is remembered as a great war movie that like most films, deviated a little too far from the text. The major criticism of the film is Brando's softening of the German character, Christian Dienst. Nevertheless, it is a film worth seeing.

The Young Lions, in its rawness and reality, will remain one of the treasured novels to emerge from one of America's darkest periods. If you are a fan of military history, or if you love to read prose that is rich and honed like poetry, I urge you to savor Irwin Shaw's The Young Lions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retro Review

The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw (Random House, 1948)

 

The Young Lions, by Irwin Shaw, first appeared in 1948, only three years after the end of World War II. It remains a classic war novel, ranked with other greats such as The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk, Exodus by Leon Uris, and From Here to Eternity by James Jones. These authors, Wouk, Uris, Mailer, Jones, and Shaw, were different from the authors who are “writing” today. These post-World War II writers not only told great stories, they were craftsmen who made every word count, who agonized over character development, who wrote with eloquence and elegance, and who had to power to make the reader weep with the words that made him/her empathize with the characters.

The Young Lions follows the lives of three protagonists, Christian Dienst, Michael Whitacre, and Noah Ackerman. Ackerman's and Whitacre's war experiences become intertwined and eventually intersect with Dienst at the climax of the novel.

Dienst, a German, is a pretty boy ski instructor, who becomes a sergeant in the German army. While at first it seems that Dienst has a strand of humanitarianism in him, the course of the war, particularly the unbearable experiences that he suffers while on the African front, strip him of his ability to feel. Shaw's choice of name, Christian, becomes increasingly ironic as the novel unfolds, and Dienst's choices deteriorate in his struggle to survive.

One example of Dienst's descent into hell is when he wrongly identifies two French civilians as having killed Dienst's companion. The sergeant attends the execution of the two falsely convicted men, after which his Lieutenant observes, “They weren't the men at all, were they?” Christian hesitated, but only for a moment. “Frankly, Sir,” he replied, “I am not sure.” The Lieutenant smiled more broadly. “You're an intelligent man,” he said lightly. “The effect is the same. It proves to them that we are serious.” The fate of the two innocent Frenchmen had been in Christian's hands, but he cast aside their lives without even flinching at their bloody demise.

When the war breaks out Michael Whitacre is a writer, hard at work on a play in Hollywood. In the beginning of the story Whitacre and his wife, Laura, have a bitter argument in front of friends, and their marriage crumbles, leaving Michael unattached when he joins the military. In many ways Michael is lost, searching for a connection with anyone who can help him through the war with support and love. He uses the war to try to make sense of the world, and engages in philosophical conversations about the meaning of it all. However, through the course of the novel, Michael discovers himself and what feats of heroism he can achieve in the darkest of hours.

By far the most poignant and interesting character is little Noah Ackerman, a Jewish boy, newly married and wildly in love with his wife. Basic training becomes the ultimate nightmare for Ackerman as most of the men in his unit, including the commanding officer, despise him because he is a Jew. After experiencing numerous humiliations, including the theft of the ten dollars that he had been hiding to buy his wife a birthday present, Ackerman decides that the only way that he can win respect from the other men is to have a fist fight with each one of them. He bravely takes on the hulking unit one at a time, and the bullies succeed in breaking his nose, tearing his ear, busting his ribs, and bruising his face. But the men in his unit are unable to destroy Ackerman's pride and sense of morality. Through his stubborn decision to defend his honor, elements of leadership emerge in Ackerman. His odyssey through the war is breathtaking and we follow his story, feeling connected intimately to this extraordinary, young man.

My father, Jay Dakelman, fought in the five major battles of World War II. He was a medic with the First Army Corps of Engineers. After waiting in England for nearly two years to invade the continent, my father was sent onto Normandy Beach on D-Day plus two. Like one of the characters in Shaw's novel, my father had purchased a Leica camera upon arriving in Britain, and my grandfather, who owned a pharmacy, sent him precious film so that Jay was able to document his experiences and travels during the war.

The Young Lions follows exactly the path that my father's photos document of the war; towns like Orly, St. Lo, and Caen are the places where the characters fight their way through to the end of the European War in Berlin. Like many soldiers of his generation, my father didn't talk about the battles, the blood, the horror. He told lots of stories about his friends and their escapades of riding on motorcycles and flirting with English and French girls. It was Irwin Shaw who told me the details that my soldier father, who narrowly escaped capture at the Battle of the Bulge, could not tell me. Shaw's descriptions of soldiers marching quietly through woods, dodging the bullets of the unseen enemy, swimming across waters holding onto comrades who could not swim so that they could arrive safely on shore, are the stories I did not hear from my Dad.

Near the conclusion of the book, the Americans come upon and liberate a concentration camp, which was another experience that my father encountered. In my naivete regarding what liberation was like for the prisoners, I would ask my father, “Weren't the prisoners jumping up and down, weren't they cheering for the Americans when you arrived?”

My father would reply, “No, Beth. It wasn't like that at all. The only thing the prisoners would ask is 'where's the chocolate? Do you have any chocolate?'” The skeletal remains of human beings were so starved that the only thing that mattered to them was food, not liberation, not the great, conquering American army.

My father also imparted that until his unit came upon the concentration camp, they had not been aware that such things existed. He had not heard any of the rumors about them. This passage taken from Shaw's novel paints the scene of exactly what the Americans saw when they came into the camps:

The men in the trucks fell quietly as they drove up to the open gates. The smell, by itself, would have been enough to make them silent, but there was also the sight of the dead bodies sprawled at the gate and behind the wire, and the slowly moving mass of scarecrows in tattered striped suits who engulfed the trucks and Captain Green's jeep in a monstrous tide. They did not make much noise. Many of them wept, many of them tried to smile, although the objective appearance of their skull-like faces and their staring, cavernous eyes did not alter very much, either in weeping or smiling. It was as though these creatures were too far sunk in a tragedy which had moved off the plane of human reaction onto an animal level of despair---and the comparatively sophisticated grimaces of welcome, sorrow and happiness were, for the time being, beyond their primitive reach.

Only a soldier who experienced the scope of World War II could have written a novel such as The Young Lions. Shaw served in North Africa as a private, and then waited in London during the preparations for the invasion of Normandy. After D-Day, Shaw and his unit followed the front lines and documented many of the of the most important moments of the war, including the liberation of Paris and the Dachau Concentration Camp.

After the war, the gifted Irwin Shaw got caught up in the maelstrom of the McCarthy era and he expatriated to Paris where he lived among other great writers. Ultimately, he moved to Switzerland where he penned the two wildly popular novels Rich Man, Poor Man and Beggerman, Thief, which were made into t.v. M

ini-series in the U.S.

In 1958 The Young Lions was produced as a movie, starring Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, a film that is remembered as a great war movie that like most films, deviated a little too far from the text. The major criticism of the film is Brando's softening of the German character, Christian Dienst. Nevertheless, it is a film worth seeing.

The Young Lions, in its rawness and reality, will remain one of the treasured novels to emerge from one of America's darkest periods. If you are a fan of military history, or if you love to read prose that is rich and honed like poetry, I urge you to savor Irwin Shaw's The Young Lions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retro Review

The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw (Random House, 1948)

 

The Young Lions, by Irwin Shaw, first appeared in 1948, only three years after the end of World War II. It remains a classic war novel, ranked with other greats such as The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk, Exodus by Leon Uris, and From Here to Eternity by James Jones. These authors, Wouk, Uris, Mailer, Jones, and Shaw, were different from the authors who are “writing” today. These post-World War II writers not only told great stories, they were craftsmen who made every word count, who agonized over character development, who wrote with eloquence and elegance, and who had to power to make the reader weep with the words that made him/her empathize with the characters.

The Young Lions follows the lives of three protagonists, Christian Dienst, Michael Whitacre, and Noah Ackerman. Ackerman's and Whitacre's war experiences become intertwined and eventually intersect with Dienst at the climax of the novel.

Dienst, a German, is a pretty boy ski instructor, who becomes a sergeant in the German army. While at first it seems that Dienst has a strand of humanitarianism in him, the course of the war, particularly the unbearable experiences that he suffers while on the African front, strip him of his ability to feel. Shaw's choice of name, Christian, becomes increasingly ironic as the novel unfolds, and Dienst's choices deteriorate in his struggle to survive.

One example of Dienst's descent into hell is when he wrongly identifies two French civilians as having killed Dienst's companion. The sergeant attends the execution of the two falsely convicted men, after which his Lieutenant observes, “They weren't the men at all, were they?” Christian hesitated, but only for a moment. “Frankly, Sir,” he replied, “I am not sure.” The Lieutenant smiled more broadly. “You're an intelligent man,” he said lightly. “The effect is the same. It proves to them that we are serious.” The fate of the two innocent Frenchmen had been in Christian's hands, but he cast aside their lives without even flinching at their bloody demise.

When the war breaks out Michael Whitacre is a writer, hard at work on a play in Hollywood. In the beginning of the story Whitacre and his wife, Laura, have a bitter argument in front of friends, and their marriage crumbles, leaving Michael unattached when he joins the military. In many ways Michael is lost, searching for a connection with anyone who can help him through the war with support and love. He uses the war to try to make sense of the world, and engages in philosophical conversations about the meaning of it all. However, through the course of the novel, Michael discovers himself and what feats of heroism he can achieve in the darkest of hours.

By far the most poignant and interesting character is little Noah Ackerman, a Jewish boy, newly married and wildly in love with his wife. Basic training becomes the ultimate nightmare for Ackerman as most of the men in his unit, including the commanding officer, despise him because he is a Jew. After experiencing numerous humiliations, including the theft of the ten dollars that he had been hiding to buy his wife a birthday present, Ackerman decides that the only way that he can win respect from the other men is to have a fist fight with each one of them. He bravely takes on the hulking unit one at a time, and the bullies succeed in breaking his nose, tearing his ear, busting his ribs, and bruising his face. But the men in his unit are unable to destroy Ackerman's pride and sense of morality. Through his stubborn decision to defend his honor, elements of leadership emerge in Ackerman. His odyssey through the war is breathtaking and we follow his story, feeling connected intimately to this extraordinary, young man.

My father, Jay Dakelman, fought in the five major battles of World War II. He was a medic with the First Army Corps of Engineers. After waiting in England for nearly two years to invade the continent, my father was sent onto Normandy Beach on D-Day plus two. Like one of the characters in Shaw's novel, my father had purchased a Leica camera upon arriving in Britain, and my grandfather, who owned a pharmacy, sent him precious film so that Jay was able to document his experiences and travels during the war.

The Young Lions follows exactly the path that my father's photos document of the war; towns like Orly, St. Lo, and Caen are the places where the characters fight their way through to the end of the European War in Berlin. Like many soldiers of his generation, my father didn't talk about the battles, the blood, the horror. He told lots of stories about his friends and their escapades of riding on motorcycles and flirting with English and French girls. It was Irwin Shaw who told me the details that my soldier father, who narrowly escaped capture at the Battle of the Bulge, could not tell me. Shaw's descriptions of soldiers marching quietly through woods, dodging the bullets of the unseen enemy, swimming across waters holding onto comrades who could not swim so that they could arrive safely on shore, are the stories I did not hear from my Dad.

Near the conclusion of the book, the Americans come upon and liberate a concentration camp, which was another experience that my father encountered. In my naivete regarding what liberation was like for the prisoners, I would ask my father, “Weren't the prisoners jumping up and down, weren't they cheering for the Americans when you arrived?”

My father would reply, “No, Beth. It wasn't like that at all. The only thing the prisoners would ask is 'where's the chocolate? Do you have any chocolate?'” The skeletal remains of human beings were so starved that the only thing that mattered to them was food, not liberation, not the great, conquering American army.

My father also imparted that until his unit came upon the concentration camp, they had not been aware that such things existed. He had not heard any of the rumors about them. This passage taken from Shaw's novel paints the scene of exactly what the Americans saw when they came into the camps:

The men in the trucks fell quietly as they drove up to the open gates. The smell, by itself, would have been enough to make them silent, but there was also the sight of the dead bodies sprawled at the gate and behind the wire, and the slowly moving mass of scarecrows in tattered striped suits who engulfed the trucks and Captain Green's jeep in a monstrous tide. They did not make much noise. Many of them wept, many of them tried to smile, although the objective appearance of their skull-like faces and their staring, cavernous eyes did not alter very much, either in weeping or smiling. It was as though these creatures were too far sunk in a tragedy which had moved off the plane of human reaction onto an animal level of despair---and the comparatively sophisticated grimaces of welcome, sorrow and happiness were, for the time being, beyond their primitive reach.

Only a soldier who experienced the scope of World War II could have written a novel such as The Young Lions. Shaw served in North Africa as a private, and then waited in London during the preparations for the invasion of Normandy. After D-Day, Shaw and his unit followed the front lines and documented many of the of the most important moments of the war, including the liberation of Paris and the Dachau Concentration Camp.

After the war, the gifted Irwin Shaw got caught up in the maelstrom of the McCarthy era and he expatriated to Paris where he lived among other great writers. Ultimately, he moved to Switzerland where he penned the two wildly popular novels Rich Man, Poor Man and Beggerman, Thief, which were made into t.v. M

ini-series in the U.S.

In 1958 The Young Lions was produced as a movie, starring Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, a film that is remembered as a great war movie that like most films, deviated a little too far from the text. The major criticism of the film is Brando's softening of the German character, Christian Dienst. Nevertheless, it is a film worth seeing.

The Young Lions, in its rawness and reality, will remain one of the treasured novels to emerge from one of America's darkest periods. If you are a fan of military history, or if you love to read prose that is rich and honed like poetry, I urge you to savor Irwin Shaw's The Young Lions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retro Review

The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw (Random House, 1948)

 

The Young Lions, by Irwin Shaw, first appeared in 1948, only three years after the end of World War II. It remains a classic war novel, ranked with other greats such as The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk, Exodus by Leon Uris, and From Here to Eternity by James Jones. These authors, Wouk, Uris, Mailer, Jones, and Shaw, were different from the authors who are “writing” today. These post-World War II writers not only told great stories, they were craftsmen who made every word count, who agonized over character development, who wrote with eloquence and elegance, and who had to power to make the reader weep with the words that made him/her empathize with the characters.

The Young Lions follows the lives of three protagonists, Christian Dienst, Michael Whitacre, and Noah Ackerman. Ackerman's and Whitacre's war experiences become intertwined and eventually intersect with Dienst at the climax of the novel.

Dienst, a German, is a pretty boy ski instructor, who becomes a sergeant in the German army. While at first it seems that Dienst has a strand of humanitarianism in him, the course of the war, particularly the unbearable experiences that he suffers while on the African front, strip him of his ability to feel. Shaw's choice of name, Christian, becomes increasingly ironic as the novel unfolds, and Dienst's choices deteriorate in his struggle to survive.

One example of Dienst's descent into hell is when he wrongly identifies two French civilians as having killed Dienst's companion. The sergeant attends the execution of the two falsely convicted men, after which his Lieutenant observes, “They weren't the men at all, were they?” Christian hesitated, but only for a moment. “Frankly, Sir,” he replied, “I am not sure.” The Lieutenant smiled more broadly. “You're an intelligent man,” he said lightly. “The effect is the same. It proves to them that we are serious.” The fate of the two innocent Frenchmen had been in Christian's hands, but he cast aside their lives without even flinching at their bloody demise.

When the war breaks out Michael Whitacre is a writer, hard at work on a play in Hollywood. In the beginning of the story Whitacre and his wife, Laura, have a bitter argument in front of friends, and their marriage crumbles, leaving Michael unattached when he joins the military. In many ways Michael is lost, searching for a connection with anyone who can help him through the war with support and love. He uses the war to try to make sense of the world, and engages in philosophical conversations about the meaning of it all. However, through the course of the novel, Michael discovers himself and what feats of heroism he can achieve in the darkest of hours.

By far the most poignant and interesting character is little Noah Ackerman, a Jewish boy, newly married and wildly in love with his wife. Basic training becomes the ultimate nightmare for Ackerman as most of the men in his unit, including the commanding officer, despise him because he is a Jew. After experiencing numerous humiliations, including the theft of the ten dollars that he had been hiding to buy his wife a birthday present, Ackerman decides that the only way that he can win respect from the other men is to have a fist fight with each one of them. He bravely takes on the hulking unit one at a time, and the bullies succeed in breaking his nose, tearing his ear, busting his ribs, and bruising his face. But the men in his unit are unable to destroy Ackerman's pride and sense of morality. Through his stubborn decision to defend his honor, elements of leadership emerge in Ackerman. His odyssey through the war is breathtaking and we follow his story, feeling connected intimately to this extraordinary, young man.

My father, Jay Dakelman, fought in the five major battles of World War II. He was a medic with the First Army Corps of Engineers. After waiting in England for nearly two years to invade the continent, my father was sent onto Normandy Beach on D-Day plus two. Like one of the characters in Shaw's novel, my father had purchased a Leica camera upon arriving in Britain, and my grandfather, who owned a pharmacy, sent him precious film so that Jay was able to document his experiences and travels during the war.

The Young Lions follows exactly the path that my father's photos document of the war; towns like Orly, St. Lo, and Caen are the places where the characters fight their way through to the end of the European War in Berlin. Like many soldiers of his generation, my father didn't talk about the battles, the blood, the horror. He told lots of stories about his friends and their escapades of riding on motorcycles and flirting with English and French girls. It was Irwin Shaw who told me the details that my soldier father, who narrowly escaped capture at the Battle of the Bulge, could not tell me. Shaw's descriptions of soldiers marching quietly through woods, dodging the bullets of the unseen enemy, swimming across waters holding onto comrades who could not swim so that they could arrive safely on shore, are the stories I did not hear from my Dad.

Near the conclusion of the book, the Americans come upon and liberate a concentration camp, which was another experience that my father encountered. In my naivete regarding what liberation was like for the prisoners, I would ask my father, “Weren't the prisoners jumping up and down, weren't they cheering for the Americans when you arrived?”

My father would reply, “No, Beth. It wasn't like that at all. The only thing the prisoners would ask is 'where's the chocolate? Do you have any chocolate?'” The skeletal remains of human beings were so starved that the only thing that mattered to them was food, not liberation, not the great, conquering American army.

My father also imparted that until his unit came upon the concentration camp, they had not been aware that such things existed. He had not heard any of the rumors about them. This passage taken from Shaw's novel paints the scene of exactly what the Americans saw when they came into the camps:

The men in the trucks fell quietly as they drove up to the open gates. The smell, by itself, would have been enough to make them silent, but there was also the sight of the dead bodies sprawled at the gate and behind the wire, and the slowly moving mass of scarecrows in tattered striped suits who engulfed the trucks and Captain Green's jeep in a monstrous tide. They did not make much noise. Many of them wept, many of them tried to smile, although the objective appearance of their skull-like faces and their staring, cavernous eyes did not alter very much, either in weeping or smiling. It was as though these creatures were too far sunk in a tragedy which had moved off the plane of human reaction onto an animal level of despair---and the comparatively sophisticated grimaces of welcome, sorrow and happiness were, for the time being, beyond their primitive reach.

Only a soldier who experienced the scope of World War II could have written a novel such as The Young Lions. Shaw served in North Africa as a private, and then waited in London during the preparations for the invasion of Normandy. After D-Day, Shaw and his unit followed the front lines and documented many of the of the most important moments of the war, including the liberation of Paris and the Dachau Concentration Camp.

After the war, the gifted Irwin Shaw got caught up in the maelstrom of the McCarthy era and he expatriated to Paris where he lived among other great writers. Ultimately, he moved to Switzerland where he penned the two wildly popular novels Rich Man, Poor Man and Beggerman, Thief, which were made into t.v. M

ini-series in the U.S.

In 1958 The Young Lions was produced as a movie, starring Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, a film that is remembered as a great war movie that like most films, deviated a little too far from the text. The major criticism of the film is Brando's softening of the German character, Christian Dienst. Nevertheless, it is a film worth seeing.

The Young Lions, in its rawness and reality, will remain one of the treasured novels to emerge from one of America's darkest periods. If you are a fan of military history, or if you love to read prose that is rich and honed like poetry, I urge you to savor Irwin Shaw's The Young Lions.

 

 

Retro Review

The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw (Random House, 1948)

 

The Young Lions, by Irwin Shaw, first appeared in 1948, only three years after the end of World War II. It remains a classic war novel, ranked with other greats such as The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk, Exodus by Leon Uris, and From Here to Eternity by James Jones. These authors, Wouk, Uris, Mailer, Jones, and Shaw, were different from the authors who are “writing” today. These post-World War II writers not only told great stories, they were craftsmen who made every word count, who agonized over character development, who wrote with eloquence and elegance, and who had to power to make the reader weep with the words that made him/her empathize with the characters.

The Young Lions follows the lives of three protagonists, Christian Dienst, Michael Whitacre, and Noah Ackerman. Ackerman's and Whitacre's war experiences become intertwined and eventually intersect with Dienst at the climax of the novel.

Dienst, a German, is a pretty boy ski instructor, who becomes a sergeant in the German army. While at first it seems that Dienst has a strand of humanitarianism in him, the course of the war, particularly the unbearable experiences that he suffers while on the African front, strip him of his ability to feel. Shaw's choice of name, Christian, becomes increasingly ironic as the novel unfolds, and Dienst's choices deteriorate in his struggle to survive.

One example of Dienst's descent into hell is when he wrongly identifies two French civilians as having killed Dienst's companion. The sergeant attends the execution of the two falsely convicted men, after which his Lieutenant observes, “They weren't the men at all, were they?” Christian hesitated, but only for a moment. “Frankly, Sir,” he replied, “I am not sure.” The Lieutenant smiled more broadly. “You're an intelligent man,” he said lightly. “The effect is the same. It proves to them that we are serious.” The fate of the two innocent Frenchmen had been in Christian's hands, but he cast aside their lives without even flinching at their bloody demise.

When the war breaks out Michael Whitacre is a writer, hard at work on a play in Hollywood. In the beginning of the story Whitacre and his wife, Laura, have a bitter argument in front of friends, and their marriage crumbles, leaving Michael unattached when he joins the military. In many ways Michael is lost, searching for a connection with anyone who can help him through the war with support and love. He uses the war to try to make sense of the world, and engages in philosophical conversations about the meaning of it all. However, through the course of the novel, Michael discovers himself and what feats of heroism he can achieve in the darkest of hours.

By far the most poignant and interesting character is little Noah Ackerman, a Jewish boy, newly married and wildly in love with his wife. Basic training becomes the ultimate nightmare for Ackerman as most of the men in his unit, including the commanding officer, despise him because he is a Jew. After experiencing numerous humiliations, including the theft of the ten dollars that he had been hiding to buy his wife a birthday present, Ackerman decides that the only way that he can win respect from the other men is to have a fist fight with each one of them. He bravely takes on the hulking unit one at a time, and the bullies succeed in breaking his nose, tearing his ear, busting his ribs, and bruising his face. But the men in his unit are unable to destroy Ackerman's pride and sense of morality. Through his stubborn decision to defend his honor, elements of leadership emerge in Ackerman. His odyssey through the war is breathtaking and we follow his story, feeling connected intimately to this extraordinary, young man.

My father, Jay Dakelman, fought in the five major battles of World War II. He was a medic with the First Army Corps of Engineers. After waiting in England for nearly two years to invade the continent, my father was sent onto Normandy Beach on D-Day plus two. Like one of the characters in Shaw's novel, my father had purchased a Leica camera upon arriving in Britain, and my grandfather, who owned a pharmacy, sent him precious film so that Jay was able to document his experiences and travels during the war.

The Young Lions follows exactly the path that my father's photos document of the war; towns like Orly, St. Lo, and Caen are the places where the characters fight their way through to the end of the European War in Berlin. Like many soldiers of his generation, my father didn't talk about the battles, the blood, the horror. He told lots of stories about his friends and their escapades of riding on motorcycles and flirting with English and French girls. It was Irwin Shaw who told me the details that my soldier father, who narrowly escaped capture at the Battle of the Bulge, could not tell me. Shaw's descriptions of soldiers marching quietly through woods, dodging the bullets of the unseen enemy, swimming across waters holding onto comrades who could not swim so that they could arrive safely on shore, are the stories I did not hear from my Dad.

Near the conclusion of the book, the Americans come upon and liberate a concentration camp, which was another experience that my father encountered. In my naivete regarding what liberation was like for the prisoners, I would ask my father, “Weren't the prisoners jumping up and down, weren't they cheering for the Americans when you arrived?”

My father would reply, “No, Beth. It wasn't like that at all. The only thing the prisoners would ask is 'where's the chocolate? Do you have any chocolate?'” The skeletal remains of human beings were so starved that the only thing that mattered to them was food, not liberation, not the great, conquering American army.

My father also imparted that until his unit came upon the concentration camp, they had not been aware that such things existed. He had not heard any of the rumors about them. This passage taken from Shaw's novel paints the scene of exactly what the Americans saw when they came into the camps:

The men in the trucks fell quietly as they drove up to the open gates. The smell, by itself, would have been enough to make them silent, but there was also the sight of the dead bodies sprawled at the gate and behind the wire, and the slowly moving mass of scarecrows in tattered striped suits who engulfed the trucks and Captain Green's jeep in a monstrous tide. They did not make much noise. Many of them wept, many of them tried to smile, although the objective appearance of their skull-like faces and their staring, cavernous eyes did not alter very much, either in weeping or smiling. It was as though these creatures were too far sunk in a tragedy which had moved off the plane of human reaction onto an animal level of despair---and the comparatively sophisticated grimaces of welcome, sorrow and happiness were, for the time being, beyond their primitive reach.

Only a soldier who experienced the scope of World War II could have written a novel such as The Young Lions. Shaw served in North Africa as a private, and then waited in London during the preparations for the invasion of Normandy. After D-Day, Shaw and his unit followed the front lines and documented many of the of the most important moments of the war, including the liberation of Paris and the Dachau Concentration Camp.

After the war, the gifted Irwin Shaw got caught up in the maelstrom of the McCarthy era and he expatriated to Paris where he lived among other great writers. Ultimately, he moved to Switzerland where he penned the two wildly popular novels Rich Man, Poor Man and Beggerman, Thief, which were made into t.v. M

ini-series in the U.S.

In 1958 The Young Lions was produced as a movie, starring Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, a film that is remembered as a great war movie that like most films, deviated a little too far from the text. The major criticism of the film is Brando's softening of the German character, Christian Dienst. Nevertheless, it is a film worth seeing.

The Young Lions, in its rawness and reality, will remain one of the treasured novels to emerge from one of America's darkest periods. If you are a fan of military history, or if you love to read prose that is rich and honed like poetry, I urge you to savor Irwin Shaw's The Young Lions.

 

 

Retro Review

The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw (Random House, 1948)

 

The Young Lions, by Irwin Shaw, first appeared in 1948, only three years after the end of World War II. It remains a classic war novel, ranked with other greats such as The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk, Exodus by Leon Uris, and From Here to Eternity by James Jones. These authors, Wouk, Uris, Mailer, Jones, and Shaw, were different from the authors who are “writing” today. These post-World War II writers not only told great stories, they were craftsmen who made every word count, who agonized over character development, who wrote with eloquence and elegance, and who had to power to make the reader weep with the words that made him/her empathize with the characters.

The Young Lions follows the lives of three protagonists, Christian Dienst, Michael Whitacre, and Noah Ackerman. Ackerman's and Whitacre's war experiences become intertwined and eventually intersect with Dienst at the climax of the novel.

Dienst, a German, is a pretty boy ski instructor, who becomes a sergeant in the German army. While at first it seems that Dienst has a strand of humanitarianism in him, the course of the war, particularly the unbearable experiences that he suffers while on the African front, strip him of his ability to feel. Shaw's choice of name, Christian, becomes increasingly ironic as the novel unfolds, and Dienst's choices deteriorate in his struggle to survive.

One example of Dienst's descent into hell is when he wrongly identifies two French civilians as having killed Dienst's companion. The sergeant attends the execution of the two falsely convicted men, after which his Lieutenant observes, “They weren't the men at all, were they?” Christian hesitated, but only for a moment. “Frankly, Sir,” he replied, “I am not sure.” The Lieutenant smiled more broadly. “You're an intelligent man,” he said lightly. “The effect is the same. It proves to them that we are serious.” The fate of the two innocent Frenchmen had been in Christian's hands, but he cast aside their lives without even flinching at their bloody demise.

When the war breaks out Michael Whitacre is a writer, hard at work on a play in Hollywood. In the beginning of the story Whitacre and his wife, Laura, have a bitter argument in front of friends, and their marriage crumbles, leaving Michael unattached when he joins the military. In many ways Michael is lost, searching for a connection with anyone who can help him through the war with support and love. He uses the war to try to make sense of the world, and engages in philosophical conversations about the meaning of it all. However, through the course of the novel, Michael discovers himself and what feats of heroism he can achieve in the darkest of hours.

By far the most poignant and interesting character is little Noah Ackerman, a Jewish boy, newly married and wildly in love with his wife. Basic training becomes the ultimate nightmare for Ackerman as most of the men in his unit, including the commanding officer, despise him because he is a Jew. After experiencing numerous humiliations, including the theft of the ten dollars that he had been hiding to buy his wife a birthday present, Ackerman decides that the only way that he can win respect from the other men is to have a fist fight with each one of them. He bravely takes on the hulking unit one at a time, and the bullies succeed in breaking his nose, tearing his ear, busting his ribs, and bruising his face. But the men in his unit are unable to destroy Ackerman's pride and sense of morality. Through his stubborn decision to defend his honor, elements of leadership emerge in Ackerman. His odyssey through the war is breathtaking and we follow his story, feeling connected intimately to this extraordinary, young man.

My father, Jay Dakelman, fought in the five major battles of World War II. He was a medic with the First Army Corps of Engineers. After waiting in England for nearly two years to invade the continent, my father was sent onto Normandy Beach on D-Day plus two. Like one of the characters in Shaw's novel, my father had purchased a Leica camera upon arriving in Britain, and my grandfather, who owned a pharmacy, sent him precious film so that Jay was able to document his experiences and travels during the war.

The Young Lions follows exactly the path that my father's photos document of the war; towns like Orly, St. Lo, and Caen are the places where the characters fight their way through to the end of the European War in Berlin. Like many soldiers of his generation, my father didn't talk about the battles, the blood, the horror. He told lots of stories about his friends and their escapades of riding on motorcycles and flirting with English and French girls. It was Irwin Shaw who told me the details that my soldier father, who narrowly escaped capture at the Battle of the Bulge, could not tell me. Shaw's descriptions of soldiers marching quietly through woods, dodging the bullets of the unseen enemy, swimming across waters holding onto comrades who could not swim so that they could arrive safely on shore, are the stories I did not hear from my Dad.

Near the conclusion of the book, the Americans come upon and liberate a concentration camp, which was another experience that my father encountered. In my naivete regarding what liberation was like for the prisoners, I would ask my father, “Weren't the prisoners jumping up and down, weren't they cheering for the Americans when you arrived?”

My father would reply, “No, Beth. It wasn't like that at all. The only thing the prisoners would ask is 'where's the chocolate? Do you have any chocolate?'” The skeletal remains of human beings were so starved that the only thing that mattered to them was food, not liberation, not the great, conquering American army.

My father also imparted that until his unit came upon the concentration camp, they had not been aware that such things existed. He had not heard any of the rumors about them. This passage taken from Shaw's novel paints the scene of exactly what the Americans saw when they came into the camps:

The men in the trucks fell quietly as they drove up to the open gates. The smell, by itself, would have been enough to make them silent, but there was also the sight of the dead bodies sprawled at the gate and behind the wire, and the slowly moving mass of scarecrows in tattered striped suits who engulfed the trucks and Captain Green's jeep in a monstrous tide. They did not make much noise. Many of them wept, many of them tried to smile, although the objective appearance of their skull-like faces and their staring, cavernous eyes did not alter very much, either in weeping or smiling. It was as though these creatures were too far sunk in a tragedy which had moved off the plane of human reaction onto an animal level of despair---and the comparatively sophisticated grimaces of welcome, sorrow and happiness were, for the time being, beyond their primitive reach.

Only a soldier who experienced the scope of World War II could have written a novel such as The Young Lions. Shaw served in North Africa as a private, and then waited in London during the preparations for the invasion of Normandy. After D-Day, Shaw and his unit followed the front lines and documented many of the of the most important moments of the war, including the liberation of Paris and the Dachau Concentration Camp.

After the war, the gifted Irwin Shaw got caught up in the maelstrom of the McCarthy era and he expatriated to Paris where he lived among other great writers. Ultimately, he moved to Switzerland where he penned the two wildly popular novels Rich Man, Poor Man and Beggerman, Thief, which were made into t.v. M

ini-series in the U.S.

In 1958 The Young Lions was produced as a movie, starring Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, a film that is remembered as a great war movie that like most films, deviated a little too far from the text. The major criticism of the film is Brando's softening of the German character, Christian Dienst. Nevertheless, it is a film worth seeing.

The Young Lions, in its rawness and reality, will remain one of the treasured novels to emerge from one of America's darkest periods. If you are a fan of military history, or if you love to read prose that is rich and honed like poetry, I urge you to savor Irwin Shaw's The Young Lions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beth Moroney, former English teacher and administrator in the Edison Public School District, specialized in teaching Creative Writing and Journalism. Recently Moroney published Significant Anniversaries of Holocaust/Genocide Education and Human/Civil Rights, available through the New Jersey Commission on the Holocaust. A passionate reader, Moroney is known for recommending literature to students, teachers, parents, and the general public for over forty years. Moroney can be contacted at trackdak19@hotmail.com.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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