4 out of 4 stars
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The memoir Letters to Sis by Cesare Giannetti is both a tribute to the author’s sister, Marisa, and a recollection of his early years in the US army, including his postings to Germany before the Iron Curtain fell, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during the Gulf War and Bosnia and Herzegovina for peacekeeping following the Balkan conflicts. He achieves this by blending personal anecdotes with copies of the letters he sent to Marisa, his most-faithful pen pal from home, until her death from breast cancer.
Whether writing about basic training exercises at Fort Jackson, drunken nights in German villages or the loss of his sister, Giannetti takes a candid warts-and-all approach. It was probably a good choice to write the book after his retirement from the armed forces, when he could be unfiltered. I found the author’s portrait of his youthful antics and travels around Europe entertaining and endearing.
Another strength of the book is Giannetti’s close witnessing of three major international events of the 1990s: the fall of the Soviet Union, the Gulf War and the aftermath of the Bosnian War. For those who aren’t familiar with the history (or have understandably forgotten), the author provides basic summaries, but I never found the story was bogged down by these. In the recollections, the reader gets both the excitement the author and his fellow soldiers experienced - “we were just days away from going to war and saving the world” - and the mundane realities, such as living out of tents in the Kuwaiti desert. The author’s style made this an easy read.
I’d be hard-pressed to fault the book. Throughout the eight-year correspondence, there are just a couple of Marisa’s letters included. Although the reader might have appreciated hearing a bit more of Marisa’s voice, this may be down to logistics – the author’s letters survive because his sister deliberately saved them. However, the reader gets a pretty strong portrait of Marisa from his letters and anecdotes from time he spent in the US.
The final chapter was on the brief side. I would have been interested to learn a little more about the author’s post-army career. After connecting with the extended Giannetti family (including Marisa’s husband), it would have been great to get a bit more information on their lives.
The story was edited to a professional standard, with only minor issues.
Overall, Letters to Sis offered me a glimpse of a career and world I know very little about, and a view of recent history beyond what you get in the textbooks. I rate this book four out of four stars.
Letters to Sis
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