Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

A Restless Spirit: The Last Months of Manfred von Richthofen

By Marc Cirigliano
Basement Productions, 2015
Jim Gallen, Reviewer

Richthofen Early in His Career

We learn history from historical tomes and biographies. Historical fiction seeks to bring its characters to life by weaving them into presumed relationships and situations. A Restless Spirit is a novel that follows Manfred von Richthofen through the last few months of his life. It begins as Manfred has gotten his 57th kill and is hoping for 58, 59, and 60 and continues to his death. Readers are introduced to the Red Baron's squad, Jasta 11, the men he commanded and flew with, as well as his family. We become acquainted with the Albatros, the aircraft in which he made most of his kills, plus the Fokkers he tested and compared and contrasted with the Sopwiths he fought against. We are placed in the back seat as the baron climbs and dives, positions and shoots, lives and kills.

Family plays major roles in this saga. The father, Albrecht, Baron von Richthofen, taught his sons, "It is paramount to be a warrior and not be consumed with killing to the point that you become a butcher." His mother, Kunigunde, worried and warned. Brother Lothar flew with Manfred while Cadet Bolko was the awestruck younger brother who admired from the ground. Isle provided the love and banter that sisters do.

Throughout this tale its subject is a national hero. Usually recognized, always esteemed, constantly being asked to sign Sanke cards, and invited to hunt at Fortress Coburg loaned by the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, (grandson of Queen Victoria as Manfred pointed out) and at an estate taken from former Tsar Nicholas.

Wounded with His Nurse
A hero's life is not all glory. Everything changed one day over Wervicq, Belgium. His head felt cleaved from top down. He could hear but not see, will but not move, recovering just enough to control his crash. Taken at his insistence to the field hospital, it was determined that he had been shot by a British .303 bullet that cut his scalp to the bone. His wound would remain open for the rest of his life. Headaches, nausea, and wandering concentration would be his constant companions on land and aloft.

Eventually every gambler's luck runs out. Just when he has the British pilot panicked, the baron's first gun jams, then the other. He again feels the sharp pains. This time the bullet did not graze his scalp but tore through skin, muscle, and blood vessels. As mortal as the newest flyer, his career ended with full military honors.

Author Marc Cirigliano presents the tension of combat, the thrill of victory, the physical and mental pain, love, honor amidst horror, and ultimately the agony of defeat. A Restless Spirit is interesting but not the great Great War novel. Besides, it's fiction, it's an account not of what did happen but what might have.

Jim Gallen

No comments:

Post a Comment