The Hessian ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
The Hessian by Howard Fast is set in 1781, in Colonial America during the Revolutionary War. A group of Hessians (German mercenaries fighting for the British) has landed in Connecticut. There are only sixteen of them, plus a drummer boy and a commander, but they are up to no good and the Colonials are rightly afraid of them. Hessians have been terrorizing the Colonials all during the war. They are highly skilled warriors who soldier for pay; the mostly untrained American soldiers are no match for them.
The Hessians come upon a halfwit named Saul Clamberham. Because he has a slate in his possession with some marks on it, they deduce he is a spy, so they hang him from a tree. A twelve-year-old boy named Jacob Heather witnesses the hanging from a distance. He, of course, runs and tells everybody what he has seen. A citizen militia, armed with any kind of guns they can lay their hands on, lays in wait behind a fence and ambushes the Hessians. All the Hessians are killed, except for the drummer boy, a teen named Hans Pohl who drops his drum and runs off into the hills. He has a bullet wound in his shoulder and doesn’t get far. He ends up at the home of a Quaker family named Heather. At their peril, the Heather family hides Hans Pohl in an upstairs room of their house and cares for his wound. He might die because the wound has become infected. Sally Heather, the sixteen-year-old daughter of the Heathers, sits by his bed and falls in love with him, not caring that he is one of the enemy.
A local doctor named Evan Feversham treats Hans Pohl at the Heather house, secretly, of course. Dr. Feversham is something of an outcast in the neighborhood because he is an Englishman who has come over to the American cause. The Heather family are also outcasts because they are Quakers, so they have something in common with Dr. Feversham. They all know they will be in serious trouble for hiding and taking care of Hans Pohl, the Hessian.
Authorities soon discover that the Heather family is hiding Hans Pohl. The Heathers are forced to give him up, with the promise he will be tried before he is hanged. The trial, when it is held, is a farce. Hans Pohl is tried for the murder of Saul Clamberham because he was present when it happened. It doesn’t matter how young Hans Pohl is or how innocent he appears. Because he is a Hessian, one of the enemy during wartime, he can’t be anything other than guilty.
The Hessian is told in the first-person voice of Dr. Feversham, the man who doesn’t quite belong. He is a battle-hardened veteran who believes in the American cause but also believes that anybody deserves to be treated for his wounds. He is cynical and realistic and knows that in wartime people don’t behave rationally. It’s a story that won’t have, can’t have, a happy ending. You never really learn what life is about. When you die, you don’t understand it any better than you did when you were born.
Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp