Arguably the unsung hero of the Lost Generation, the era that included such literary giants as Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, John Dos Passos (1896-1970) shared the passion of his peers for dramatizing the American experience. Three Soldiers, the first work to gain Dos Passos the attention he deserved, appeared in the aftermath of World War I—an era rife with socially conscious novels of personal and political disillusionment. It provoked a storm of controversy when it was published in 1921, and endures today as one of the great anti-war books.
A grimly realistic depiction of army life, the story follows a trio of idealistic young men as they contend with the regimentation, violence, and boredom of military service during the First World War. Fuselli, a story clerk from San Francisco, embraces conformity in the hope of gaining a promotion to impress his hometown sweetheart. Chrisfield, an easygoing Indiana farm boy, and Andrews, a gifted musician, are repelled by the army's mind-numbing routines and battlefield horrors. Vivid and moving in its exploration of warfare's dehumanizing effects, this powerful novel remains chillingly contemporary in its relevance.
Until Three Soldiers is forgotten and fancy achieves the inevitable victory over fact, no war story can be written in the United States without challenging comparison with it—and no story that is less meticulously true will stand up to it. At one blast it disposed of oceans of romance and blather.
—H. L. Mencken
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