Three hapless American soldiers, sent out on reconnaissance at the end of World War II, end up,
more by mistake than design, scaling a mountain in a snowstorm. It is the brutal Italian winter
of 1944. While the soldiers struggle to keep their bearings, the atrocities surrounding them —
on both sides of the conflict — are too corrosive for such a sensitive instrument as a moral compass.
Soon the three are lost — and not just physically.
Richard Bausch’s Peace is a spare, beautiful, breathlessly told drama. To read the novel is to
enter a cold winter nightscape in which, contrary to the title, no peace may be found. The book
concerns itself less with the big concepts of World War II — Allied, Axis, Nazism, Fascism — than
with the minute physical depravation of men hunting one another across an icy landscape. Bausch’s
mountain is partly mythic. A freezing rain continuously falls. Deer loom out of the dark like avatars
from another, saner world. The ancient Italian farmer who guides the Americans may in fact be
trying to kill them. A pivotal moment occurs near the short novel’s end, when one of the soldiers,
Robert Marson, shows a singular act of private mercy amid the flood of public violence. Ordered to
assassinate their Italian guide, who is revealed at last for a Fascist (and probably a spy),
Marson disobeys his superior. He takes the old man into the woods, and sets him free.
“’Do your duty,’ his father had said.” writes Bausch, “And he could not find in his heart what
the word meant anymore.” Marson, in the end, does not do his duty. He does the right thing. In
the depth of his conscious, he finally finds a compass reading. The true north of compassion; it
might just lead to a moment’s peace.
—Brad Kessler, 2009 finalist judge
2007 Fiction winner for Birds in Fall