Ward S(wift) Just Robert E. Nordberg - Essay

Robert E. Nordberg

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Ward Just, after eighteen months as a correspondent in Vietnam, wrote a critique of the war, "To What End?" Some of the same concern for social justice appears in his first novel ["A Soldier of the Revolution."]. Its rather wooden hero is Michael Reardon, a former monk who works for a foundation in an unnamed Latin American country….

Reardon is kidnapped by a group of guerrilleros plotting to overthrow the government. They are all the more determined for knowing their chances are about nil. Reardon is necessary to them because they wish to seize the radio station he supervises long enough to broadcast the news of revolution to the Indians. Reardon is captivated by the dedication and resolve of the guerrillas and their leader, El Jefe. He finds himself, not simply going along with a situation he cannot help, but doing everything he can to help them in their madcap scheme. The author seems uninterested in the success of the venture. The twelve (significant?) revolutionaries are shot up and running off in all directions as the story ends. One is not told whether Reardon and El Jefe will survive and, if so, whether they will fight another day.

The story is worthwhile as an illustration of the way a man's behavior can be transformed when he finds something he believes in. The motivation of the hero is incomprehensible, though. Why would a man who has seen through the pretensions of foundations and do-gooders suddenly become a zealot for the proposition that all will be well if all foreigners leave the country? One suspects that Reardon was just bored. He is also boring. The man is supposed to live an intense inner life of conflict and search, but none of it comes through to the reader. The other characters are equally flat, except for one Brother Bicker, who believes to the end that the country can be saved if enough holy cards are distributed. This reviewer believes that a novel ought to point a theme or, failing that, at least present some interesting people. This one does neither. One feels that Mr. Just feels something very intensely and wants to say it, but either there isn't much to it or he can't get it said.

Robert B. Nordberg, in a review of "A Soldier of the Revolution," in Best Sellers (copyright 1970, by the University of Scranton), Vol. 30, No. 8, July 15, 1970, p. 153.