The War Inside His Mind: A Soldier’s Battle to Erase the Emotional Damage of Combat
Middle River Press (2020)
Reviewed by Megan Weiss for Reader Views (06/17)
“The War Inside His Mind: A Soldier’s Battle to Erase the Emotional Damage of Combat” is Y.M. Masson’s follow up to “When Paris Was Dark: A Sliver of WWII History.”
In this book, we are introduced to a grown-up Alain, who is now following in his uncle’s footsteps and paying his dues by serving his country. Despite not having much combat experience, Alain is promoted as a Lieutenant and is put in charge of a platoon of men stationed in the mountains of North Africa. The French-Algerian War is in full swing, and it is up to Alain and his men to keep the loyal French and Arab villagers safe from the brutal rebels. Faced with running into danger on the regular, Alain must steel his emotions as more of his men become casualties of a war that should have been ended by the French government two years earlier. He will also come face-to-face with the crude, horrendous brutality of the rebel Algerians against not only his men, but innocent civilians–farmers and families he is supposed to protect. Through it all, Alain must remain calm, sharp and focused on his mission: to take out the enemy and help put an end to such an awful war.
I found “The War Inside His Mind” to be quite breathtaking. When I read the first book, I had some trouble connecting with Alain as a child, because the way he spoke just did not feel authentic or reminiscent of a child, but in this second installment, Alain makes a fantastic narrator who commands readers’ sympathies from the first page. He is humble, scared, angry and constantly wondering just how much damage his military service is doing to his mind. Though quickly making his way up the ranks, he has no desire to be a career soldier. Reading Alain’s narration felt like being right inside his thoughts.
I also found “The War Inside His Mind” to be quite informative, because I had never really learned about the French-Algerian War before. I knew that Algeria, especially, has had quite a violent history at times, but I never knew that there was an actual war. In particular, I liked how Masson portrayed the war not in big battles or gory injuries, but through regular, almost daily skirmishes with rebel groups that, though quick, always seem to claim more young lives. The emphasis is not on the blood and gunfire as much as on the fact that this was one of the first wars in which soldiers were dealing with more advanced technology. Instead of air raids and trench wars, there were grenades, rebel attacks on farms and refugees, and machine guns that could fire more rounds in a minute than ever before. In theory, this war was simpler than World War II, but in execution, it was far more unpredictable and harder to strategize against.
Masson’s book is a wonderful, if melancholy, portrayal of everyday life for a combat soldier in a modern war. It can be read on its own, but the first book will provide some context to some characters and events referenced throughout Alain’s narration. I recommend “The War Inside His Mind” to readers of historical fiction, military fiction, and those who identify with characters struggling with PTSD or psychological trauma.