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The Volunteer

Review

The Volunteer

Vollie Frade, a young man born to aging parents near Davenport, Iowa, experiences a life-changing event one day after grammar school. His mother reads a mimeographed note from his teacher, strips him of his clothing, which she tosses into the yard, and scrubs him clean in bathwater. His father tends a blazing fire that consumes the fabric. Vollie can see and feel the remnants of his “self” being burned alive. In the author’s words, “His self was a ‘who’ who had burned away in the flames; but the creature was a ‘what’ that could endure this.”

A reader responds immediately to Salvatore Scibona’s picturesque language for both landscape and emotion. At the moment he witnesses his change of “self,” Vollie morphs into a creature with purpose. At the age of 17, he ends a long-standing disagreement with his father about money (or how it is to be spent when one has it) by opening a bank account. That same day, he visits the local Marine Corps Recruiting office and joins the Corps, which is soon headed for Vietnam.

"Scibona’s mastery of word pictures places him in the running for the highest accolades and awards.... The book transcends art at its highest level, and is insightful, passionate and meaningful."

THE VOLUNTEER does not begin with Vollie’s story but with a scenario in 2010, in the Hamburg, Germany airport. A young boy wearing a black hooded jacket sobs while talking in a strange language to several bewildered airport attendants. Unable to get his name or country of birth, his questioners become perplexed when he refuses a helping hand, physically withdrawing. Who is he? And who has left him there?

A backstory artfully introduces Elroy Heflin of New Mexico, who recently spent time in a Kansas prison and is now an Army member serving in Latvia prior to its entrance into NATO. There, he meets a local girl named Evija. They connect both emotionally and physically, and have a son together.

THE VOLUNTEER is written with well-chosen words and descriptions beyond the imagination. Scibona’s mastery of word pictures places him in the running for the highest accolades and awards. Not only is the novel a literary diamond, the storytelling is first-rate. Vollie’s emotional response to the burning of his clothes dictates his psychological removal of self to events in his adult life. After capture and lengthy confinement by the Viet Cong, Vollie’s state of mind fits him for survival while watching others die. He is recruited by an operative stateside for a clandestine operation in a spy network. As a result, his name and background are forever changed, and the remnants of his former identity are formally erased.

Each major character reels in the tastes, sights and smells of his “now” environment --- from the sands of New Mexico to the farmlands of Iowa, the jungles of Vietnam to the bustle of an international airport. Throughout the novel, readers enter the minds of each and every player and become engrossed in a positive outcome for their predicaments. Wanderlust and escape may have begun Vollie’s search for “self,” but do his progeny walk to the same drummer?

A lengthy read, THE VOLUNTEER crosses not only borders but also timelines to tell a far-reaching story. The book transcends art at its highest level, and is insightful, passionate and meaningful.

Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on May 3, 2019

The Volunteer
by Salvatore Scibona

  • Publication Date: March 5, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press
  • ISBN-10: 0525558527
  • ISBN-13: 9780525558521