The hardships endured by fourteen-year-old Henri Carle, author Scott Armstrong's fictional protagonist in the historical first-person narrative RUSSIAN SNOWS: Coming of Age in Napoleon's Army , are hard for anyone today to imagine. Napoleon's Grande Armee, which invaded Russia in June of 1812, included more than half a million men from many nations and speaking numerous different languages. In six months of trial by combat, sickness, starvation, and an almost complete breakdown of order, only a few thousand of these half million men were able to escape Russia whole and return home. Young Henri wins for himself acceptance as a soldier in Marshal "the Bravest of the Brave" Michel Ney's III Corps as he endures the rigors of the long march into Russia, the extreme trials of combat at the Battle of Borodino for Moscow, Moscow's fire, and the terrible retreat out of Russia in the winter, tracked and assaulted by Russian army elements and mounted Cossacks. He carries on bravely despite vicious bullying, despite wrenching personal loss, and despite some of the hardest conditions endured by soldiers in the history of military conflict. Author Scott Armstrong does a wonderful job of making every detail real for the reader.
Some of these details include the uniforms and the shoes, the food, the weapons, the building of pontoon bridges with "balks and chesses," the symptoms of typhus (which killed even more French soldiers than were killed in combat), and the differential responses to military scavenging and looting. Armstrong has Henri Carle relate the story to his grandchildren in the year 1868. This narrative "device" enables him to enrich the tale with details of the conflict that could only be gained from retrospect, methodologically reminding of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace . This also makes the work highly educational in the historical sense...and Armstrong has done his "homework" on the conflict well...as well as inspirational in the personal sense. It isn't every day you can meet, as you do on the pages here, a hero like young Henri Carle. This is an excellent book and I highly recommend it to young readers especially.