The Human Body by Paolo Giordano, translated by Anne Milano Appel (New York: Viking Press, 2014. 318 pp)

Paolo Giordano is the author of the critically acclaimed international bestseller The Solitude of Prime Numbers, which The New York Times called “mesmerizing,” and which has been published in more than forty languages. He has a Ph.D. in particle physics and lives in Italy.

Afghani Doldrums

The Human Body is not what it sounds like. Upon looking at the title, one might think the book is a novel of anatomy and physiology. However, The Human Body by Paolo Giordano is a darkly comic novel inspired by the author’s two ten-day tours in Afghanistan as an embedded journalist reporting on the most recent Afghani conflict. Personally, war novels give me the willies, bringing some strange dark reality into my life that I don’t normally welcome. The Human Body gives a different perspective to war that is strangely refreshing.

Akin to Catch-22, and told in the third person, the pages of The Human Body are riddled not only with the plagues of war, but with the doldrums as well. The day-to-day activities of the soldiers at war leaves the readers bonding with the troop. The members of the third platoon, Charlie Company work at the Forward Operating Base (FOB) in the Gulistan district of Afghanistan. This relatively inexperienced (if not horrible) group of soldiers experiences the horror of war as well as the monotony of daily life. The FOB is one of the deadliest places in Afghanistan, and the soldiers live out the war under the scorching sun. However, under the harsh conditions, some inescapable beauty is found.

“‘Is it true what they say about the roses?’
‘What’s that?’
‘That in the spring the valley is filled with roses.’
‘I’ve never seen them, Colonel.’
Ballesio sighs. ‘I thought so. Of course. Why should roses grow in such a horrible place?’” (38).

Growing Up

The characters all find a way, through the harsh yet beautiful place, to journey from youth into adulthood. Each of the characters has their own individual story and childish tendencies. First Corporal-Major Torsu spends most of his time online consumed with a virtual girlfriend he’s never met, someone who, as his fellow soldiers point out, may not even be a girl. Giulia Zampieri spends her time all too aware of the fact that she’s a woman in a male-dominated world, with all the men vying for her attention. Allessandro Egitto, the medic, simply uses the FOB to get away from his real life and family back home.

The monotonous drills at the FOB leave the troop wondering if they’ll ever see any action until a mission goes awry. The troop finds themselves changed, perhaps even grown up for the better.

Much like Yossarian from Catch-22, each character has their own respective vices that the reader can easily identify with, which is what makes the novel truly outstanding. Despite the tragedy surrounding these characters, a passion for life emerges. The absurdity of war, of love, of family, and of life in general are made evident as the soldiers make an effort to make sense of it all. The Human Body is a truly wonderful read, and something that is sure to find its way into the cannon of our modern war literature.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5

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