THE LOST THOUGHTS OF SOLDIERS

Delia Falconer

On what may be the last day of his life, Captain Frederick Benteen — the man who saved portions of Custer’s Seventh Cavalry from almost certain death at Little Bighorn — receives a letter from an ambitious boy offering to “restore” his reputation. Over the twenty-three long years since that battle, watching Custer’s legend grow, Benteen has brooded silently on the past. His General has been dead for more than twenty years, killed in action, considered a hero, while the public has never forgiven Benteen for surviving. Now, at last, he begins to put down some account of those two horrific days pinned down on a ridge.

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On what may be the last day of his life, Captain Frederick Benteen — the man who saved portions of Custer’s Seventh Cavalry from almost certain death at Little Bighorn — receives a letter from an ambitious boy offering to “restore” his reputation. Over the twenty-three long years since that battle, watching Custer’s legend grow, Benteen has brooded silently on the past. His General has been dead for more than twenty years, killed in action, considered a hero, while the public has never forgiven Benteen for surviving. Now, at last, he begins to put down some account of those two horrific days pinned down on a ridge. What follows is an exquisite eulogy for his fellow soldiers, both alive and dead, as Benteen refuses to bow to the demands of legend.

As he begins to write, Benteen finds himself haunted by his lost companions: and as he mines deeper into the past, he struggles to untangle his own story, his own worth, from the grand narrative of history.

Told over the space of a single morning, The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers is about death and dying, women and war, growing old, parenthood, friendship and soldierliness. It is about a nation’s preoccupation with celebrity, and what, in the end, a life is worth.

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  • Soft Skull Press
  • Hardcover
  • 2006
  • 160 Pages
  • 9781933368177

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$16.00

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About Delia Falconer

Delia Falconer is the author of the breakout debut novel The Service of Clouds (FSG, 1998) and her essays and stories have been anthologized widely in many publications and international journals, including Oxford Australian Love Stories; Penguin Best Australian Short Stories; and The Penguin Century of Australian Short Stories.

Praise

Shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize

“This beautifully complex novel, with its echoing lacunae, its delicate touches alongside brutishness, reads like a timeless work of human history.”
—Barry Lopez, National Book Award winner

Discussion Questions

What are your first impressions from the title of this story? To what extent is it an apt description of the story?

Is Frederick Benteen a protagonist to whom the reader can relate? Are we distanced from him or do we sympathize with him? Why?

What is the tone of this novel? Do you find it humorous or serious? Why?

To what extent is this novel a look into the minds of men and the way they relate to one another, to women, to varied experiences? Where are some examples of this?

In what ways does the relationship between Custer and the soldiers reflect the relationship between big and “small men”?

How would you characterize the relationship between Benteen and his wife, Frabbie? Is it romantic? Sexy? “Practical”? In what ways is it different from Custer and Libbie’s? What do the differences between the two relationships seek to portray?

At one point in the story, history is described as “the sum of the griefs we choose, more than the triumphs.” Is this a story about how history is defined? What are the different ways history is defined in this novel?

How does Ms Falconer’s writing style complement the ideas behind this story?

What is the symbol of the ice-shed and the girl at the lake? Are there other symbols in this novel which you feel highlight some important ideas?

Ms Falconer says she is “drawn to the raw side of life” and has a “great love of the silly, obscene, smutty.” Is this evident in her story?

Ms Falconer said that the “really hard part … was to engage sympathetically with the soldiers and their story.” By the end of the story, do you feel she has successfully done so?