Or - The Children's Crusade - a Duty-Dance With Death. Which explains it all really.
I finally got to read this book on the 50th anniversary of its publication. The originality of this anti-war book made it worth the wait and the themes are as valid today as they ever were.
The story is mainly set in Dresden during the Second World War, although eventually the protagonist realises that timeline of his life is something he can choose to enter when he chooses. So the story flits from his early days to when he is quite old and he experiences death, getting married, his daughter's marriage and so on.
But it his time in Dresden that is the most disturbing. He is a prisoner of war during the firebombing, captured as an American soldier fighting for the Allies. There is intricate detail of his peers, the characters' suffering and the things they had to do to survive. The significant feature is that they are young men, naive of the world they inhabit, hence the alternative title of The Children's Crusade.
In his future, the protagonist finds himself an exhibit in a glass cage on another planet. There he is observed and given a mate in an attempt to breed. This could be viewed as a science-fiction thread or an escapist strategy due to his post-traumatic stress disorder. The theme is free will versus fate, both on Earth and on the other planet, concluding that everyone does what they have to do: 'So it goes'.
The story is witty, ironic and poignant. It looks at death, warfare, time, suffering, innocence, morality and fate. It is simply written from one man's perspective as he witnesses and lives through the destruction and effects of war. An accessible book that leaves plenty to think about.
Originally published by Dell Publishing 31 March 1969. 50th Anniversary edition published by Vintage Classics 29 March 2019.