Thursday, February 16, 2006

A Book Review

Few works of fiction have truly altered my perspective or permanently haunted my thoughts. One is Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo. I have never done a book review here but this story has been on my mind lately and I wanted to share.

Joe Bonham is an American Soldier who is severely wounded in WWI. He wakes up without knowing what has happened to him or where he is. Through self observation and the few remaining senses he has left, he comes to realize his horrific state: existing within the gap between the living and the dead. Both of his arms and legs have been amputated and his face has been blown off. He cannot see, hear, taste or talk, and he lies in a hospital in an unknown country. The reader goes through his struggles of coming to grips with this reality as his mind wanders back and forth between his past and his immediate condition, as well as his desperate and futile attempts to communicate with his caregivers. Through vibrations, touch, and temperature changes, he keeps himself busy by learning patterns – and in time figures out the time of day and staff shift changes, anything to clue him in on gaining a foothold in the outside world, meanwhile placing himself in the path of sedation due to his incessant head motions – attempts at communication by using Morse Code, mistaken for spasms. The quiet times are spent flashing back to his youth – girls, friends, adventures – the simple sensations he took for granted and will now never experience again. We suffer with him through the time it takes to assess what his life is now, and learning to move forward while teetering on the edge of lunacy from the isolation.

The text itself is written with very little punctuation, creating assaulting, run-on, manic thought patterns – a very effective mood-setting style. Trumbo forces the reader to bypass pause in thought, causing the reader themselves to experience Joe’s panic-ridden struggle, and his passages of heartbreak, hope and triumph.

This book will bring you to your proverbial knees. I first read it over 10 years ago, and it continues to haunt me. I’m sure it will the rest of my life. It’s been called “the most powerful anti-war story ever written”, but I find that a little superficial and more than a little oversimplified. More accurately, it is a brutal look at the human condition at its most rudimentary, and the horror of true aloneness - so close to others yet permantly isolated - on an uncomfortably up close and personal level. Having half a human body is far from synonymous with being half a human being. How much is too much suffering? Does the Hippocratic oath have a limitation on the stance of cruelty? Is there a point where it’s just better, more compassionate, to let a victim pass on via nature of his massive injuries?

May God grant peace to the Joe Bonhams.

16 comments:

Sensual Demoness said...

People can be kept alive through unbelievable injuries and damage these days, but what is their quality of life? It may be one of the many areas of life in which we were so excited that we could do something that we didn't stop to think if we should.

You have a very thoughtful way of writing.

Bougie Black Boy said...

Isn't this similiar to the movie excerpts in the "One" video by Metallica? I think it's based on the same thing. Do you know?

clew said...

Correct on both counts, Bougie. In fact, being a Metallica fan (and seeing that video) is what led me to read the book. "One" was inspired by Joe's story and the scenes and voiceovers in the video are taken from the movie which was based on the book.

Bougie Black Boy said...

yeah... i'm a metallica fan. that's the BougieWhiteBoy coming out in me. LOL

the book seems just as disturbing and powerful as the book!

Bainwen Gilrana said...

The book seems as disturbing and powerful as the book? :-P

Sorry, can't resist opportunities to tease my strong black brother. ;-)

It sounds like a fascinating read. I may have to look for it.

Kristi said...

I didn't realize the Metallica/book reference. Good call you Bougie and Clew.

And you must have read my mind. I was thinking about writing a post asking for good book referals. I will probably still do that tomorrow.

Bill Scott, Sr. said...

That sounds like an incredible book. I may have to read it some time soon.

Also, I am a Metallica fan as well. Up until the Load album I knew every one of their songs on guitar. I didn't like the Load album nor reload and sorta quit following after them after those two albums. But I was a HUGE fan when I was a teenager and still enjoy them even now.

Nicole said...

I've read & reread your post...very thought provoking. And it's spiraled my thoughts to the fact that we treat our pets better than we treat our people.

Think on it...my Jilly was sick, her own body turning on her & poisoning her, I could have prolonged her life but honestly it wouldn't have helped her quality of life & we quietly helped her go to sleep & die. Saving her from some half life kind of state...

Medicine is full of miracles, true. But sometimes we really should ask ourselves if we SHOULD.

Bougie Black Boy said...

oops. i meant, the book is as disturbing as the video and movie. LOL

martie said...

Wondering when medical doctors should or shouldn't play God.....tough call!

naive-no-more said...

Excellent book review sis. I don't think I need to read it ~ it sounds awful. I need more feel good stuff in my life, not something that's going to haunt me. I'm sure that still won't stop you from giving me all the details though. ;)

McSwain said...

Sounds interesting... Thanks for the great review.

bigwhitehat said...

Human life is sacred, all human life. Those whose lives are harder still want to find their place in the world. A life of suffering is still sacred.

A life spent on the freedom of others is indeed a life well spent.

Check out the Hippocratic Oath. It may suprise you.

We must be careful what we do in the name of good.

blazing-firebird said...

I could not read such a book. It would probably throw me into a deep depression. I will add that it reminds me a little of the movie, "The English Patient." I not ever been able to sit completely through that movie. Hugs!

clew said...

Thanks everyone for your input. I didn't express my own opinion on the life-death pose, so as to see what you all might think and say. It's interesting to see what comes up. It's good to step out of your comfort zone now and then and I love it when you share your thoughts on a tough subject! You guys make blogging extra fun. Hugs!

Pete Mitchell said...

This sounds like a fascinating read. I've written the title and author down to keep an eye out for it at the library. Thanks.