REVIEW: “Dulce et Decorum” by S. L. Huang

Review of S. L. Huang, “Dulce et Decorum”, in Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler, Sword and Sonnet (Ate Bit Bear, 2018) — 205-215. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This is the story of how Emily Shen seeks out Valentina (sometimes Knyazev; today, Knyazeva), hedge-magician and curator of the poetry of war museum, at the suggestion of her friend Chand, for help dealing with the last remnant of her beloved grandfather — his treasured gun. This gun represents everything she hates — war that goes against her pacifist views, and a reminder of the fact that her beloved grandfather was not what she is:

Besides, the pistol feels like it doesn’t represent Yeye so much as it represents all the pieces of him I didn’t know or didn’t understand (p. 209).

It’s a story of how she must grapple with “the cognitive dissonance” — the cognitive dissonance that comes from being a pacifist raised by a war veteran, of the dissonance that comes from the juxtaposition of the two themes of the anthology: poetry, so beautiful, so vital, so full of power; and war, so ugly, so atrocious, so deadly. Valentina offers to write her a poem of her grandfather, noting that it will be “Messy. And human” (p. 214). Like life. Like war. Like poetry itself.

Huang’s telling of how is so full of piercing sentences that I could write a review just quoting all the ones that cut quick. But then I’d basically be replicating the story here, so I’ll just end this review with: Go read the story for yourself.