Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Booknote: The Harlem Hellfighters

Max Brooks, The Harlem Hellfighters. New York: Broadway Books, 2014. ISBN: 9780307464972. 

This is a fictionalized historical account of the African American 369th Regiment in World War I. The U.S. sent these Black soldiers over, but due to the usual American racism, these men were pretty much set up to fail by their country from the start. The 369th went on to prove themselves above and beyond, becoming the most decorated unit of its time. In fact, out of respect, the French called them "Men of Bronze." To the Germans who learned to fear them, they were the Harlem Hellfighters.

This graphic novel is a great narrative. It is strong, powerful, and moving. As a reader, it made me angry how the U.S. mistreated these men serving the nation, and the story illustrates how often the U.S. enjoys sending men to war but never does right by them. This is not a romantic war. World War I was a brutal, violent, painful, and deadly conflict, and this is presented in the graphic novel. Max Brooks' narrative along with Caanan White's art bring it all to life. From recruitment to training to the trenches of Europe, the men of the 369th discover a larger world that changes them. They went to make the world safe for democracy, and those who survive will return home to a new fight, the fight for equality and democracy at home.

The Harlem Hellfighters is a thrilling tale of honor, perseverance, and sacrifice. Once you pick it up, you will not be able to put it down. Brooks draws on solid historical research to bring a chapter of African American history not really known outside of a few scholarly circles--until now. It is an amazing piece that shows the best of what a graphic novel can do. It is a powerful tale with gritty art that practically makes you feel like you are there. This is a must read that I cannot recommend highly enough. For me, this goes down as one of the best books I have read this year.

I am giving it a solid 5 out of 5 stars.

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