Before Their Time: A Memoir

Kotlowitz, Robert

Published by Knopf, 1997
ISBN 10: 067944789X / ISBN 13: 9780679447894
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Synopsis: 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.

Review: In the summer of 1943, Robert Kotlowitz, an indifferent premed student at Johns Hopkins University, was drafted into the army. "I told myself," he writes in his affecting memoir of World War II, "that it was better than being blatantly tossed out of college." In any event, he continues, "part of me, at eighteen, was eager to suffer the hazards and humiliations of war."

Hazards and humiliations he found in abundance. He was assigned to a company led by an inept captain and put to work in a Browning Automatic Rifle unit. In combat school at Fort Benning he learned that, in battle, such units had a life expectancy of eleven seconds. "That is not hyperbole," he adds wryly. "It is scientific fact." But Kotlowitz lived through the war, fueled by his hatred, as a Jew, for the German enemy, and burning with the patriotic fervor of a young man. Both his hatred and his fervor diminished as he endured battle, living close to the bone and watching as his comrades fell.

Kotlowitz writes with skill and mordant humor of the infantryman's life, of the incredible instinct to survive, of "the sounds ... never before heard, swelling over the noise of small-arms and machine-gun fire, of men's voices calling for help or screaming in pain or terror--our own men's voices, unrecognizable at first, weird in pitch and timbre." His fine memoir belongs on readers' shelves alongside such books as Stephen Ambrose's Band of Brothers and Paul Fussell's Doing Battle, primary documents of a terrible time. --Gregory McNamee

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Before Their Time: A Memoir
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: 1997
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Acceptable

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