(New York Times Book Review)
Young Lionsby Irwin Shaw
The Young Lions is a vivid and classic novel that portrays the experiences of ordinary soldiers fighting World War II. Told from the points of view of a perceptive young Nazi, a jaded American film producer, and a shy Jewish boy just married to the love of his life, Shaw conveys, as no other novelist has since, the scope, confusion, and complexity of war.
(New York Times Book Review)
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(Atlantic Monthly )
- Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers
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The Young Lions
By Irwin Shaw
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1976 Irwin Shaw
All rights reserved.
The town shone in the snowy twilight like a Christmas window, with the electric railway's lights tiny and festive at the foot of the white slope, among the muffled winter hills of the Tyrol. People smiled at each other broadly, skiers and natives alike, in their brilliant clothes, as they passed each other on the snow-draped streets, and there were wreaths on the windows and doors of the white and brown houses because this was the eve of the new and hopeful year of 1938.
Margaret Freemantle-listened to her ski boots crunch in the packed snow as she walked up the hill. She smiled at the pure twilight and the sound of children singing somewhere in the village below. It had been raining in Vienna when she left that morning and people had been hurrying through the streets with that gloomy sense of being imposed upon that rain brings to a large city. The soaring hills and the clear sky and the good snow, the athletic, cozy gaiety of the village seemed like a personal gift to her because she was young and pretty and on vacation.
Her legs felt relaxed and pleasantly weary as she scuffed little spurts of snow in her path. The two cherry brandies she had drunk after the afternoon's skiing had warmed her throat and she could feel the warmth spreading out to her shoulders and arms in thin, rich tendrils under her sweaters.
"Dort oben am Berge," the children sang, "da wettert der Wind," their voices clear and plangent in the rare air.
"Da sitzet Maria," Margaret sang softly to herself, "und weiget ihr Kind." Her German was halting and as she sang she was pleased not only with the melody and delicacy of the song, but her audacity in singing in German at all.
She was a tall, thin girl, with a slender face. She had green eyes and a spattering of what Joseph called American freckles across the bridge of her nose. Joseph was coming up on the early train the next morning, and when she thought of him she grinned.
At the door of her hotel she stopped and took one last look at the rearing, noble mountains and the winking lights. She breathed deeply of the twilight air. Then she opened the door and went in.
The main room of the small hotel was bright with holly and green leaves, and there was a sweet, rich smell of generous baking. It was a simple room, furnished in heavy oak and leather, with the spectacular, brilliant cleanliness found so often in the mountain villages, that became a definite property of the room, as real and substantial as the tables and chairs.
Mrs. Langerman was walking through the room, carefully carrying a huge cutglass punchbowl, her round, cherry face pursed with concentration. She stopped when she saw Margaret and, beaming, put the punchbowl down on a table.
"Good evening," she said in her soft German. "How was the skiing?"
"Wonderful," Margaret said.
"I hope you didn't get too tired." Mrs. Langerman's eyes crinkled slyly at the corners. "A little party here tonight. Dancing. A great many young men. It wouldn't do to be tired."
Margaret laughed. "I'll be able to dance. If they teach me how."
"Oh!" Mrs. Langerman put up her hands deprecatingly. "You'll have no trouble. They dance every style. They will be delighted with you." She peered critically at Margaret. "Of course, you are rather thin, but the taste seems to be in that direction. The American movies, you know. Finally, only women with tuberculosis will be popular." She grinned and picked up the punchbowl again, her flushed face pleasant and hospitable as an open fire, and started toward the kitchen. "Beware of my son, Frederick," she said. "Great God, he is fond of the girls!" She chuckled and went into the kitchen.
Margaret sniffed luxuriously of the sudden strong odor of spice and butter that came in from the kitchen. She went up the steps to her room, humming.
The party started out very sedately. The older people sat rather stiffly in the corners, the young men congregated uneasily in impermanent groups, drinking gravely and sparely of the strong spiced punch. The girls, most of them large, strong-armed creatures, looked a little uncomfortable and out of place in their frilly party finery. There was an accordionist, but after playing two numbers to which nobody danced he moodily stationed himself at the punchbowl and gave way to the phonograph with American records.
Most of the guests were townspeople, farmers, merchants, relatives of the Langermans, all of them tanned a deep red-brown by the mountain sun, looking solid and somehow immortal, even in their clumsy clothes, as though no seed of illness or decay could exist in that firm mountain flesh, no premonition of death ever be admitted under that glowing skin. Most of the city people who were staying in the few rooms of the Langermans' inn had politely drunk one cup of punch and then had gone on to gayer parties in the larger hotels. Finally Margaret was the only non-villager left. She was not drinking much and she was resolved to go to bed early and get a good night's sleep, because Joseph's train was getting in at eight-thirty in the morning. She wanted to be fresh and rested when she met him. As the evening wore on, the party became gayer. Margaret danced with most of the young men, waltzes and American fox-trots. Along about eleven o'clock, when the room was hot and noisy and the third bowl of punch had been brought on, and the faces of the guests had lost the shy, outdoor look of dumb, simple health and taken on an indoor glitter, she started to teach Frederick how to rhumba. The others stood around and watched and applauded when she had finished, and old man Langerman insisted that she dance with him. He was a round, squat old man with a bald pink head, and he perspired enormously as she tried to explain in her mediocre German, between bursts of laughter, the mystery of the delayed beat and the subtle Caribbean rhythm.
"Ah, God," the old man said when the song ended, "I have been wasting my life in these hills." Margaret laughed and leaned over and kissed him. The guests, assembled on the polished floor in a close circle around them, applauded loudly, and Frederick grinned and stepped forward and put his arms up. "Teacher," he said, "me again."
They put the record on again and they made Margaret drink another cup of punch before they began. Frederick was clumsy and heavy-footed, but his arms around her felt pleasantly strong and secure in the spinning, warm dance.
The song ended and the accordionist, now freighted with a dozen glasses of punch, started up. He sang, too, as he played, and one by one the others joined him, standing around him in the firelight, their voices and the rich, swelling notes of the accordion rising in the high, beamed room. Margaret stood with Frederick's arm around her, singing softly, almost to her self, her face flushed, thinking, how kind, how warm these people are, how friendly and childlike, how good to strangers, singing the new year in, their rough outdoor voices tenderly curbed to the sweet necessities of the music.
"Röslein, Röslein, Röslein rot, Röslein auf der Heide," they sang, old man Langerman's voice rising above the chorus, bull-like and ridiculously plaintive, and Margaret sang with them. She looked across the fireplace at the dozen singing faces. Only one person in the room remained still.
Christian Diestl was a tall, slender young man, with a solemn, abstracted face and close-cut hair, his skin burned dark by the sun, his eyes light and almost golden with the yellow flecks you find in an animal's eyes. Margaret had seen him on the slopes, gravely teaching beginners how to ski, and had momentarily envied him the rippling, long way he had moved across the snow. Now he was standing a little behind and away from the singers, an open white shirt brilliant in contrast to his dark skin, soberly holding a glass and watching the singers with considering, remote eyes.
Margaret caught his glance. She smiled at him. "Sing," she said.
He smiled gravely back and lifted his glass. She saw him obediently begin to sing, although in the general confusion of voices she could not hear what addition he made to the music.
Now, with the hour and the strong punch and the imminence of a new year, the party had become less polite. In dark corners of the room couples kissed and pawed each other, and the voices grew louder and more confident and the songs became harder for Margaret to follow and understand, full of slang and double meanings that made the older women giggle, the men roar with laughter.
Then, just before midnight, old man Langerman stood up on a chair, called for silence, gave a signal to the accordionist, and said in an oratorical, slightly drunken, tone, "As a veteran of the Western Front, wounded three times, 1915 to 18, I would like everyone to join me in a song." He waved to the accordionist, who went into the opening chords of Deutschland, Deutschland über Alles. This was the first time Margaret had ever heard the song sung in Austria, but she had learned it from a German maid when she was five. She still remembered the words and she sang with them, feeling drunk and intelligent and international. Frederick held her tighter and kissed her forehead, delighted that she knew the song, and old man Langerman, still on his chair, lifted his glass and offered a toast, "To America. To the young ladies of America!" Margaret drained her glass and bowed. "In the name of the young ladies of America," she said formally, "permit me to say that I am delighted."
Frederick kissed her neck, but before she could decide what to do about that, the accordionist struck up once more, ringing, primitive chords, and all the voices sang out, harshly and triumphantly, in the chorus. For a moment Margaret didn't know what the song was. It was one which she had heard only once or twice before, in surreptitious snatches in Vienna, and the male, roaring voices, obscured by drink, made the tangled German words hard to understand.
Frederick was standing stiffly next to her, clutching her, and she could feel his muscles straining with the passion of the song. She concentrated on him and, finally, she recognized the song.
"Die Fahne hoch, die Reihen fest geschlossen," he sang, the cords standing out on his throat, "S. A. marschiert in ruhig festen Schritt. Kameraden die Rotfront und Reaktion erschossen."
Margaret listened, her face stiffening. She closed her eyes and felt weak and half strangled in the grinding music and tried to pull away from Frederick. But his arm was clamped around her and she stood there and listened. When she opened her eyes she looked across at the ski-teacher. He was not singing, but was watching her, his eyes somehow troubled and understanding.
The voices became louder and louder, full of threat and thunder, as they crashed to the end of the Horst Wessel song. Then men stood up straight, eyes flashing, proud and dangerous, and the women, joining in, sank like opera nuns before an operatic god. Only Margaret and the dark young man with the yellow-flecked eyes were silent when the last "Marschieren mit uns in ihrem Geiste mit," rang through the room.
Margaret began to weep, silently, weakly, hating herself for the softness, clamped in Frederick's embrace, as the bells of the village churches rang out in thin, joyous pealing, echoing against the hills in the winter night air.
Old man Langerman, beet-red by now, the sweat running off his round bald dome, his eyes glistening as they might have glistened on the Western Front when first he arrived there in 1915, raised his glass. "To the Fuehrer," he said in a deep, religious voice.
"To the Fuehrer!" The glasses flashed in the firelight and the mouths were eager and holy as they drank.
"Happy New Year! Happy New Year! God bless you this year!" The high patriotic spell was broken, and the guests laughed and shook hands and clapped each other on the back, and kissed each other, cozy and intimate and unwarlike.
Frederick turned Margaret around and tried to kiss her, but she ducked her head. The tears turned into sobs and she broke away. She ran up the steps to her room on the floor above.
"American girls," she heard Frederick say, laughing. "They pretend they know how to drink."
The tears stopped slowly. Margaret felt weak and foolish and tried to ignore them, methodically washing her teeth and putting her hair up and patting cold water on the red stained eyes, so that in the morning, when Joseph came, she would be lively and as pretty as possible.
She undressed in the shining clean whitewashed room, with a thoughtful brown wood Christ hanging on a crucifix over the bed. She put out the light, opened the window and scrambled into the big bed as the wind and the moonlight came soaring in off the powdery, bright mountains. She shivered once or twice in the cold sheets, but in a moment it was warm, under the piled feathers. The linen smelled like fresh laundry back home in her grandmother's house when she was a child, and the stiff white curtains whispered against the window frame. By now the accordionist was playing softly below, sad, autumn songs of love and departure, muffled and heartbreaking with so many doors between. In a little while she was asleep, her face serious and peaceful, childish and undefended in the cold air above the counterpane.
Dreams were often like that. A hand going softly over your skin. A dark, generalized body next to yours, a strange, anonymous breath against your cheek, a clasping, powerful arm, pressing you ...
Then Margaret woke up.
"Be quiet," the man said, in German. "I won't harm you."
He has been drinking brandy, Margaret thought irrelevantly. I can smell it on his breath.
She lay still for a moment, staring into the man's eyes, little jets of light in the darkness of the eyesockets. The hand went over her belly softly and expertly, slid down her leg. She could feel his leg thrown over hers. He was dressed and the cloth was rough and heavy and scratched her. With a sudden jerk, she threw herself to the other side of the bed and sat up, but he was very swift and powerful and pulled her down again and covered her mouth with his hand. He chuckled.
"Little animal," he said, "little quick squirrel."
She recognized the voice now. "It's only me," Frederick said, "I am merely paying a little visit. Nothing to be frightened of." He took his hand tentatively from her mouth. "You won't scream," he whispered, still the small chuckle in his voice, as though he were being amused by a child. "There is no point in screaming. For one thing, everyone is drunk. For another, I will say that you invited me, and then maybe changed your mind. And they will believe me, because I have a reputation with the girls anyway, and you are a foreigner, besides ..."
"Please go away," Margaret whispered. "Please. I won't tell anyone."
Frederick chuckled. He was a little drunk, but not as drunk as he pretended. "You are a graceful little darling girl. You are the prettiest girl who has come up here this season...."
"Why do you want me?" Margaret desperately took the cue, trying to tense her body, make it stony, so that the inquisitive hand would meet only cold, antagonistic surfaces. "There are so many others who would be delighted."
"I want you." Frederick kissed her neck with what he obviously thought was irresistible tenderness. "I have a great deal of regard for you."
"I don't want you," Margaret said. Insanely, caught there next to that huge, tough body in the dark bed, deep in the night, she felt herself worrying that her German would fail her, that she would forget vocabulary, construction, idioms, and be taken because of that schoolgirl failure. "I don't want you."
"It is always more pleasant," Frederick said, "when the person pretends in the beginning she is unwilling. It is more ladylike, more refined." She felt him sure of himself, making fun of her. "There are many like that."
"I'll tell your mother," Margaret said, "I swear it."
Frederick laughed softly, the sound confident and easy in the quiet room. "Tell my mother," Frederick said. "Why do you think she always puts the pretty young girls in this room, with the shed under it, so it is simple to get in through the window?"
It isn't possible, Margaret thought, that little round, cherry-faced, beaming woman, who had hung crucifixes in all the rooms, that clean, industrious, church-going.... Suddenly, Margaret remembered how Mrs. Langerman had looked when the singing had gripped them all in the room below, the wild, obstinate stare, the sweating, sensual face swept by the coarse music. It is possible, Margaret thought, it is, this foolish eighteen-year-old boy couldn't have made it up....
Excerpted from The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw. Copyright © 1976 Irwin Shaw. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Irwin Shaw (1913-1984) grew up in New York City and graduated from Brooklyn College in 1934. He is the playwright of Bury the Dead, and the author of twelve novels, among them Rich Man, Poor Man, The Troubled Air, Nightwork, Acceptable Losses, Evening in Byzantium and Short Stories: Five Decades, the last published by the University of Chicago Press.
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What does it mean to be at war, to be a man, to be an average Joe, to be a hero, to see war's horror, to see its tragedy, to learn to do what must be done to survive? One of the best, if not the best novel to come out of the World War II experience, Irwin Shaw's, The Young Lions tells the intertwined war stories of three compelling characters, one, Michael Whitacre, a Broadway showman and partying type who comes into the war late, and takes a position as journalist assistant, driving behind and eventually up to the active front lines, alternatively wishing for safety and wondering what it is like to fight, wanting to see some military action, and finally seeing more than enough; a second man, Noah Ackerman, also an American, a Jew who is discriminated against even in attempting to bury his father, a man whose only friend is killed in the Solomon Islands, a man who, although her Waspish father initially disapproves, marries a young woman and fathers a child, only to be subsequently drafted and suffer abuse throughout basic training before learning bravery and military smarts while fighting in Europe; and a third man, Christian Diestl, an Austrian ski instructor before the war, who enters the military with high hopes for Nazi Germany, only to have his illusions shattered in the process of surviving battles in Africa, Italy, France and Germany, growing smart enough to survive and fight but losing all claim to humanity in the process. The book is a bit long for the contemporary reader, nevertheless, after the opening chapters it moves with relentless speed towards the inevitable meeting up of the three soldiers in its final pages. Shaw uses the circumstances of his characters to comment on contemporary social conditions. Some might be put off by these observations, but I found them appropriately interesting. For many people, especially Americans, there is an unrealistic, idealistic, almost worshipful view of who soldiers are and how they behave in a military environment. Some of the very realistic incidents in this book might dispel such naïveté. Who should read this book? If you're looking for a good World War II story, well told, or if you are interested in what it is like to be at war in the military, this is the book for you.
Don't be put off by the war setting. This brilliant epic novel revolves around a richly drawn cast of characters - just ordinary people at the onset of the story - and shows how their lives become entwined in the ensuing conflict of WW2. One word of warning, though: James Salter has written a great reflective introduction to this new edition of the classic novel (first published in 1949 and probably re-issued again because of the resurge of interest in WW2 films such as Saving Private Ryan and TV's Band of Brothers, which were clearly influenced by The Young Lions) but spoils it by giving away the ending of the story and divulging the fate of the three central characters you're supposed to be rooting for over 662 pages! If you haven't read The Young Lions before, then I suggest you skip the introduction and go back to it after you've finished the novel. As for the author: one of America's greatest and most-gifted novelists and short story writers, Irwin Shaw is best remembered for his Rich Man, Poor Man TV mini-series of the 1970s (now available on video). The quality of writing and depth of character is his classic novels is far superior to most of his predecessors today. A groundbreaking pioneer of the big multi-character blockbuster novel, every author who has followed Irwin Shaw - from Stephen King to John Grisham - owes a debt to this literary trailblazer.
I was not ready to take in so strong a history. The war scenario was not really compelling to me but since the author was Shaw, I knew it was worth reading it. This novel is perhaps a recollection of something real. One can hardly imagine that the characters are completely fictional. This novel mixes the stories of more than one character and the conclusion puts the reader to think and re-think about the sensless of wars. No one will ever regret reading this book. I can assure that the reader will read it again after some time
I enjoyed how the auther showed 3 differenet sides of 3 totally different men. How some choose to fight for different reasons. Also how they came from very different belief systems. I believe that any reader of this book could easily understand what these 3 young men went through, because they are not that much different then our "Young Lions" today if we stop and think about it.
Vivid novel of 3 mens' experiences of WWII. Compelling. I want to find the movie and watch it!
Beautifully written, as one would expect from this author. Provides very interesting insights into the lives of three soldiers from very different backgrounds during WW II.
Strange as it seems, while I was reading this book, the movie came on TV so I had to watch it. It was very different, and although I understand the editing pf the movie, as this is a very long book, it was fun to see both stories, for the book was entirely different in many ways. I thought the writing was very true to life, to Shaw's experiences in the war, and I could feel the parallels to my father's. I appreciated the diversity of the 3 main characters, and I really enjoyed his writing and the story. I had forgotten he wrote the great "Rich Man, Poor Man", so I want to read more of him. A really good read.
A well written book worth reading, however doesn't have the pizzaz(for lack of a better word) that other books of that period have like "From here to Eternity"-
I have read a lot of WW2 fiction and this was one of the best.
How this could be considered a "classic" is beyond me. I found it difficult to develop any rapport or affinity for any of the characters. I only read the whole thing because of the carrot dangled at the beginning to see what happens to the lead characters. By that time I could care less...