Tuesday, April 5, 2011

I Had Seen Castles by Cynthia Rylant

What is the cost of war?  Family. Friends. The love of your life. Your own innocence……  If you could turn back the clock, would you be so eager to enlist and put your life on the line?  I Had Seen Castles by Cynthia Rylant is a novel written about John Dante.  The story is told through his eyes .  “More than fifty years later, hundreds of miles between Pittsburgh and Toronto, and God knows how many altered faces since….. still I want to remake that day.”
John Dante is much like any typical seventeen year old.  He enjoys hanging out with his friends, going to school, and is often thinking about girls.  All was well for John until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  Every aspect of John’s life was about to change.  His dad the professor was moving to California to work for the government.   His mother who enjoyed photography was about to work in a local factory to make artillery pieces and small arms.  His lovely sister that wanted to be a school teacher would be sent off to live with a relative because she becomes pregnant.   John is waiting to turn eighteen so he can enlist in the armed forces. Suddenly, John has the desire to live, to experience life to its fullest because he knows he may not make it home. 
Upon John’s quest to live and experience life before he goes off to war, he falls in love.  John had been traveling on a bus and was accidentally bumped off and landed at the feet of a remarkable girl.  “I looked up into the most hypnotic blue eyes I had ever seen.  Ginny was what they call Dark Irish.  Thick black hair, pale freckled skin, and blue eyes to pin you to the ground.”  Ginny and John quickly developed a relationship that appeared real and true. Although, John was eager to be a part of the war for fear he would be labeled a coward.  Ginny was opposed to the war and wanted John to be a conscientious objector.  John “would have rather died than be judged a coward.”  “Ginny said softly, “If you die, you miss everything.  You won’t be back and you’ll miss everything.  Just as softly, I answered, “If ‘everything’ here is that important, then I’d damned well better go.”  This is the crux in their relationship.  There is intensity in this book about peace and war, about life and death. 
Rylant tells a remarkable story about a boy who was forever transformed because of war.  I certainly became invested in the characters because of her artistic ability to write and make you connect on an emotional level.  However, after reflecting on this novel written about war, I began to connect to the wars that we are involved in today. After reading this book, would a seventeen year old today still be eager to fight in wars or would they give it a second thought?  Rylant describes some very grim experiences of war.  It also made me think about the men and women today that are currently fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.  I can’t imagine what it is like for them to come back home.  How are they supposed to just jump back to life with their spouse and children and carry on as if nothing has every happened?  I certainly have gained a new perspective of what life is like for a soldier, serving on the front lines, and then trying to adjust to life as usual at home.
John was so adamant about fighting for freedom and democracy. After three months of combat John could not fight for words anymore.  “Not for democracy, nor freedom, and certainly not for religion.”  “I killed to keep from dying.  I killed to protect the boys in my squad.”  I wonder how many soldiers today feel the same way.  This book could certainly evoke some strong feelings about war.  I can imagine some serious conversations in a classroom or around the table in a home.
I was disappointed that John was never able to see Ginny again.  I guess I was looking for the happily ever after….  I just thought it was so important for her to know that she helped him survive and that he was seeking forgiveness from her.  The last two lines are so powerful.  “But, Ginny, I want you to know that I am really alive.  And I still love you.”   I don’t understand why he didn’t continue to search for her.  He said, “I didn’t have enough resolve, was still weak and carful, could not do it.”  What about now?  Was he afraid he would upset her current life?  Was he afraid he would not be able to have a life with her?  Was it better not to try than to be rejected? 
War is painful and life altering, even if you survive.  Is it worth the cost?


  1. Definitely easy to connect and become involved in this one. "I killed to keep from dying," said so much to me. I thought of the movie Cast Away, and how disturbing it is when someone who thought they lost you realizes you are alive, but still can't have you. I kinda understood where he came from, but I could never do it.

  2. War is important, you're fighting for something much bigger then your own life. What if all soldiers said, the pain, stress and trauma isn't worth what you're accomplishing by fighting. Then we would have much bigger problems on our (America's) hands, bigger then a large part of our population is fighting and risking our lives. You're not just helping your country. War shows people what being brave is and how to be a man. I would say fighting is worth the cost.