Toward the Heavenly City

Eugenio Corti should be well known to Chronicles readers as the author of the terrifying war diary Few Returned and The Red Horse, one of the finest novels of our time and perhaps the greatest piece of Christian fiction published in my lifetime.  The Last Soldiers of the King is a very slightly fictionalized account of Corti’s experiences in the final years of World War II, when he and other Italian officers took an oath to serve under the Italian king against the German occupiers.

I am not a soldier, but the soldiers I have known described their experiences with the same unsentimental realism Corti displays in all his work.  The life of the Italian soldier is compounded of dust, discomfort, and tedium punctuated by bursts of violence.  When Mussolini was overthrown by his own party and the king in 1943 and the Italians declared an armistice, Corti was stationed outside of Rome.  The German attack was devastating, and the author and his comrade Antonio Moroni walked south to find the British across half the length of Italy.  The narrative of their rambles is a classic description of Italy’s great diversity.  It is not an idyllic journey, and, in their weariness, the two young men, who begin the march as fast friends, quarrel frequently over nothing.

Young Eugenio and Antonio are naive Lombards (though Eugenio had survived the horrors of the Russian...

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