January 14, 2019

On My Bookshelf: How Did I Get Here? by Jane Marlow

The basic plot from Amazon: Andrey enters his final year of medical studies in 1854 with an empty belly, empty pockets, and secondhand clothes hanging together by wishful thinking. When Russia blunders into the misbegotten Crimean War, Tsar Nicholas recruits medical students to the front, and Andrey grabs at this flash of good luck.

But his sanity is soon tested as he is forced to witness the most senseless and utter disregard for human life imaginable--where the death of a man holds no more significance than the death of a beetle. Andrey fears he is slowly becoming unhinged by the sound and feel of the relentless rasp of his saw against the mangled limbs of soldiers who have had no anesthesia.

Eventually the guns stop firing, and the ink dries on the peace treaty, but the madness of war doesn't end for Andrey. Can he stop seeking solace from the vodka bottle? Can he cease being a black well of bottomless cynicism? Can he begin to trust the woman who longs to walk beside him on his journey?

Why I liked it: How Did I Get Here? was a slow start for me, largely because of my dislike for the main character Andrey. He is whiny, self-centered, and ungrateful. He joins the war efforts for selfish reasons and doesn't stop thinking of himself until the final chapters of the book. He is oblivious to the feelings and struggles of others even as illness and death surround him. This was the second book in a series, so perhaps reading the first would have warmed me to Andrey.

Of interest was the background information about a historical event I knew little about, the Crimean War, life in Russia  during that time period, and the ideas about medical practice.

Classroom application: Excerpts of the novel could be used for a thematic unit focused on the brutalities of war. Possible parings might include The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien and "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Pierce. Students could also research the evolution of medical practice and the changes that have occurred over time, particularly the relationship between cleanliness and spread of disease and infection.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of How Did I Get Here? for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

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