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Posted on Jul 12, 2021 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

The Flutist of Arnhem covers “A Bridge Too Far”.

The Flutist of Arnhem covers “A Bridge Too Far”.

Ray Garbee

The Flutist of Arnhem: A Story of Operation Market Garden. Author: Antonio Gil. Publisher: Dead Reckoning. 152 pages. Price $ 24.95 ISBN: 9781682474631

I first encountered the defense of Arnhem bridge in Cornelius Ryan’s book “A Bridge Too Far”. Later came the movie with a cast of thousands and a number board games covering aspects of the operation. Antonio Gil revisits the events of this battle with his recent graphic novel “The Flutist of Arnhem: A Story of Operation Market Garden”. Gil weaves a good overview of General Montgomery’s big push to end the war with a fictional tale of an SOE agent trying to deliver important documents to the Allied High Command. The two separate story lines intersect during the events of Operation Market Garden – the combined air assault and ground offensive designed to push the Allies over the Rhine and into Germany.

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The book retells the story Operation Market Garden with enough detail to understand the events, without getting bogged down within individual combat actions. While the historical narrative drives along the events of the battles and the role of the key participants, the story of the SOE agent provides insights into the work of the Dutch resistance fighters and the risks they took opposing the German occupation.

At the end of the day, Market Garden is an integral part of the setting of the story, but not the primary story itself. Those historical events are preordained and unfold according to the historical record. But within that, the reader has the tale of our intrepid SOE agent whose fate is uncertain. It’s that unknown that keeps the reader invested in the outcome of the story.

At the same time, it’s not all about the fictional narrative. A reader unfamiliar with the scope and events of Market Garden will come away with a good overview of the campaign, the participants and the outcome. The book packs enough details to remind me of Stephen Badsey’s Osprey Campaign Series book, Arnhem 1944: Operation Market Garden.

Military themed comics have a long history. Related by medium, but distinctive in terms of story-telling, graphic novels of historical events have their own growing body of work. Recent books published by Dead Reckoning include graphic novel adaptations of Remarque’s, “All Quiet on the Western Front” and Hornfinscher’s “Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors”.

The Flutist of Arnhem does a solid job of providing an overview of the events of Operation Market Garden from inception to close. Antonio Gil has a great eye for detail. The artwork effectively conveys a sense of place and environment. You get a good sense of the landscape and built structures. There was good attention to detail in depicting the equipment and the appearance of the combatants on both sides.

If there was a weakness, it was in some of the English language translations, or if not that directly, the choice of some words suggested a work not originally envisioned in English. This really jumped out in one heading titled the “the allied persecution”. From the context, it looks as if the word “prosecution’ was intended. It’s a minor thing, but still a thing that could have been caught in editing. Aside from that, the dialog is well done and engaging.

The story is effective at conveying the overall arc of the campaign, with its key geographical milestones of Eindhoven, Nijmegen and Arnhem and the challenges the Allied forces faced in each area.

I wanted to feel more engaged with the plot line for the SOE agent. If those events had ended earlier, it would have been a satisfying conclusion, but it is the primary narrative of the story. It is still an effective and engaging narrative and it does arrive at a satisfying conclusion.

The book is reminiscent of the old “We were there at…” series of novels that were intended as middle-grade fiction for children. In these, historical events became the setting for the activities of the protagonists. Antonio Gil engages in a similar approach here, though our protagonists are most certainly not children! The themes presented in the book explore the brutality of war. Given the depictions of war and the occasionally salty language you’ll want to exercise you own discretion in determining if it’s appropriate for your young reader. If it were a movie, it would likely fall into a solid PG-13 category. To be fair the book’s language and violent imagery is no worse than that encountered in an online gaming situation and as such has almost certainly been heard by most teenagers. But parents should definitely review the material and make their own decision.

If you are looking for a detailed history on Operation Market Garden, this is not the book you are looking for. But if you are looking for a diverting story set against the backdrop of General Montgomery’s bold push towards Germany, you’ll enjoy The Flutist of Arnhem.

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