Reid Mitchell A Man Under Authority

ISBN 13: 9781885983114

A Man Under Authority

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In A Man Under Authority, his first novel, Reid Mitchell introduces us to a retired "enemy" colonel who is hired as a consultant by an American movie director. In his assignment, the colonel is forced to confront his own past while we the readers must draw our own conclusions about the public and private uses of memory, history and morality.

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The protagonist of A Man Under Authority had assumed a life of virtual anonymity until, in an ironic twist of fate, life intrudes and brings with it all he fought so hard to put behind him. The aging colonel has retired with his wife to the very country against which he fought. Now making a modest living by translating books into his native language, he and his wife live in a 400-year-old farmhouse and observe simple daily routines. Into this great lull comes a letter from America informing the colonel that a film company is shooting an epic about "his" war, and they want him as a consultant.

Author Reid Mitchell, an award-winning military historian, imaginatively plays out the questions of character and ethics that lie at the heart of our fascination with war, but with a twist: they unfold amidst the creation of a movie. Offered a chance to reevaluate his past, the colonel cannot overlook the bizarre pillaging of history to feed the entertainment industry. In the face of this paradox, he's challenged to ascertain the truth about his past.

The lean prose provides an ironic contrast to the anarchistic dreaminess of the action on the movie set. And a truly sharp question is posed to our entertainment-drenched culture when the colonel participates in a reconstruction of "his" battle, faced with the memory of almost being blown up and witnessing death at every turn.

From Kirkus Reviews:

This capably understated portrayal of a veteran soldier's singular postwar adventure is the first novel from a respected military historian (The Vacant Chair, 1993, etc.). The protagonist, identified only as ``the colonel,'' is a former Nazi tank commander and prisoner of war, retired and working intermittently as a translator, living with his wife in quiet anonymity in a small German village, many years after his country's surrender. When an American film company shooting an ``epic'' movie about the war asks him to serve as a consultant, his curiosity and his vanity drive him to join the crew on location in a neighboring country (apparently Italy), where the colonel endures casual affronts to his practiced dignity, and variously upsetting relationships with the film's forthright woman director, the egocentric actor who'll play him, the actor's awkwardly maturing son (who's enthralled by the colonel's military expertise), and the seductive actress playing his wife (who seems enamored of the man the colonel once was). As the fictional story he's watching blends in his mind with long-buried memories of combat experience, the colonel realizes ruefully that ``his life then had a richness it lacked forever after'' and that he too has been an actor--``in a play with unfortunate consequences, a mental strutting and posing that created bombed-out cities and tossed broken corpses into ugly arrangements.'' Mitchell succumbs to overplotting along the way, but brings his story to a highly effective climax and denouement, ending it with a dramatic flourish that curiously recalls a recent novel rather similar in theme and tone as well: Brian Moore's The Statement. Though it's not a fully realized work of fiction, this is a thoughtful, lucidly written character study and moral drama that augurs well for its author's new career as a novelist. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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