Peace, By Richard Bausch

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The Independent Culture

From its Hemingway-esque opening, tracing a group of American soldiers on a journey up a wintry Italian mountainside in the final days of the Second World War, Richard Bausch's novella doesn't put a foot wrong, maintaining its magisterial bearing to the final page.

A surprise attack has resulted in two dead soldiers, the shooting of a German soldier, and of his female companion. The deaths haunt the remaining Americans but they must go on. They take a prisoner with them, an aged Italian who acts as a guide but who in fact leads them into a trap.

As they track their painful way up and down a mountain, the contradictions of their journey reflect the contradictions of war, wherein trained soldiers become scared men, and traitors are only hapless individuals trying to keep themselves alive. Each man's life seems worth something when we hear about their wives and children and their childhoods in happier places, yet we know that each man's life is disposable, too.

A haunting, spare, perfect work of art.