With elegance and precision, Mingarelli dramatizes the steady blossoming of friendships and the abrupt end of innocence ... Four Soldiers is no hectic and chaotic war novel. It unfolds in short, tightly focused chapters, and in spare, crystalline prose (beautifully translated by Sam Taylor). Most of the 'action' is fleeing, not fighting, or sitting tight and talking. At times there isn’t even talking: Instead of open dialogue we get Benia’s relayed thoughts, personal observations and unarticulated emotions ... The last electrifying pages resemble one of the more violent stories from Isaac Babel’s .
Mr. Mingarelli’s trademark writing style, in a typically solid translation from the French by Sam Taylor, is so rudimentary that it seems like no style at all, but a firsthand account unearthed from an archive. Four Soldiers is a sentimental book, lacking the cutting moral dimensions of the author’s amazing 2012 novel A Meal in Winter, about soldiers in the Wehrmacht. Still, its simplicity lends it grandeur. One thinks of Maxim Gorky, or even the early sketches of Tolstoy.
Spare, matter-of-fact and masterfully controlled, this is a novel as noteworthy for what it leaves out—politics, purpose for fighting, anything that reflects on the world at large—as for what it includes.