Before Their Time: A Memoir

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in this memoir of his experiences as a teenage infantryman in the US Third Army during World War II, Kotlowitz brings to life the harrowing story of the massacre of his platoon in northeastern France, in which he--by playing dead--was the only one to survive. 208 pp. 15,000 print.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Before Their Time: A Memoir

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in this memoir of his experiences as a teenage infantryman in the US Third Army during World War II, Kotlowitz brings to life the harrowing story of the massacre of his platoon in northeastern France, in which he--by playing dead--was the only one to survive. 208 pp. 15,000 print.

From the Hardcover edition.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this slow-moving but effective memoir, novelist Kotlowitz (His Master's Voice, 1992) relates his experiences as a soldier in an infantry platoon during WWII. For the author, life as a soldier in the U.S. Army-during both training and combat-is largely mundane, though punctuated by sudden and senseless tragedy. As a teenaged college student, Kotlowitz is drafted into an Army engineering program. When the program is scuttled, he is assigned to the 26th Division of the Third Army, the Yankee Division, as an infantryman. In plain, no-nonsense prose, Kotlowitz describes the meager and spotty combat training he and his fellow soldiers receive under poorly trained officers. During a nighttime training exercise in Tennessee, 20 men from Kotlowitz's company drown trying to cross the rain-swollen Cumberland River on rubber rafts ("a swift and terrible death, in full awareness"). Finally, Kotlowitz and his fellow soldiers are shipped overseas to France, where they endure the sort of trench warfare usually associated with WWI. Under inept leadership, the platoon is ordered to make an offensive drive toward enemy lines that has disastrous consequences. Kotlowitz's expert sense of detail and character bring his fellow soldiers and the platoon's officers to life with humor and wit. While his book is a moving condemnation of war, it is more importantly a compassionate homage to men who died too suddenly, and too young. (Feb.)
Kirkus Reviews
Novelist Kotlowitz acts as his fallen buddies' unofficial company historian of their combat duty in WW II, from army basic training to a precipitous, disastrous encounter with the enemy.

More than 50 years after WW II, with over half its veterans now dead, Kotlowitz (His Master's Voice, 1992, etc.) recounts his own experiences, in part to find "a definitive end to the accumulated weight of sadness and nostalgia." With this simple goal, his straightforward prose captures both the mundane and the horrific features of a soldier's life, as well as his own teenager's naïveté. After getting bucked out of a training program in order to supply his division with live bodies after D-day, Kotlowitz is thrown into an eclectic mix of soldiers in the so-called "Yankee Division." His commanding officer is a textbook-trained OCS graduate and former university football tackle from Ohio, his squad leader a generally reliable soldier with a tendency to go AWOL under pressure, and his buddies a melting-pot mix of draftees. Infantry life quickly sorts them into a soldiers' hierarchy, right down to the squad's sad sack, but Kotlowitz gives each man his balanced due. After an uneventful delay awaiting deployment orders in France, he and his buddies find themselves on the front, dug in a few hundred yards from the well-prepared Germans, in the fall of 1944. When they are finally sent forward, the assault is so disastrous that he survives only by "playing the living corpse" among his platoon, one of just three survivors. After subjecting him to grilling by the division's historian and its psychiatrist, the army, ironically, sends him behind lines to recuperate by guarding a warehouse of duffel bags, some of which belonged to his fallen buddies.

An unsentimental, honest testament to the individual experience of war—the kind that history overlooks.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385496032
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/28/1999
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 1,489,258
  • Product dimensions: 5.15 (w) x 7.96 (h) x 0.52 (d)

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