“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
It’s an iconic line in the third installment of The Godfather movies, as a mafia kingpin trying to go legit just can’t seem to break free of his involvement in the family business.
It’s the line — not at all the occupation — that’s so relevant for Army Captain Nico Corretti, who is winding down a most honorable career in the U.S. Army. Yet in finding his way to retirement and the travails associated with it, he is drawn back to military service, not once but twice. His tale is documented in CW3 Cesare Giannetti’s novel rife with true events called Back to Serve: Return of a Soldier.
The exact ratio of truth to creative license in Giannetti’s work is unknown, yet, while reading, you tend to feel that it is the author himself — as much as his protagonist — telling you his life story. Also, I imagine that he’s got a terse, gritty, blue-collar voice, with a Bronx upbringing and penchant to tip a beer or three at every road stop, whether with friends, acquaintances or on his own.
A TURNING POINT AND AN UNEXPECTED ENCOUNTER
The character Corretti begins his tale in San Antonio, TX, as he undergoes the out-process of leaving the military and preparing for a lengthy road trip back to his family in Florida. But a funny thing happens the night before his journey as he looks to unwind in a nearby tavern. A strange, beautiful Russian woman starts a conversation with him, and before they part she informs him — already knowing his name, incidentally — that his life is in danger.
As Corretti begins his trek the next day, the confrontation with Nadya infuses a dose of mystery into the story and becomes a key point of reference as he uses his long drive to reminisce about his life, consider decisions made along the way, and wrestle with the decisions to come.
“My mind felt as if it had been dealt a poker hand full of topics that shuffled my head. A long trip will do that.”
Getting into Nico’s head along the ride is a major portion of the book. He describes his upbringing in the Bronx, early days in military training, influential family and friends (notably his dad Johnny, his wife Irena and his close childhood friend Mickey), his guilt towards the men under his command who didn’t make it back, and his concern over either finding his next job or settling into retirement.
AN ADEPT NARRATOR
As a reader, it is easy to relate to his stories, which naturally makes you think back to the various corresponding times in your own life that seem buried in a forgotten place.
Some of his simple observations are quite well expressed. As he studies the framed pictures behind the desk of the woman giving him his military debriefing, he thinks “I imagined how the photos fed her soul with love as well as her professional flow by just being there.”
There’s also the piquant way he describes the “ornery” training officer Cunningham, “whose facial expressions told us he had no sense of humor…The less he spoke, the more we knew we would pay physically, like children who knew they misbehaved.”
Corretti undergoes a tough transition from a respected, honored military career to struggles with unemployment and trying to reenter the working world. It is during a ride on the Staten Island Ferry, viewing the majesty and patriotism of the Statue of Liberty, that he makes up his mind: “I was drinking a beer in the middle of the day, jobless … But when I looked up at her face, strong and true, I decided I was going to do something more. Although I was out of the military and out of the fight, I had made the decision … that I would go back. Back to serve.”
With that decision, Nico’s trip takes a dramatic detour, bringing him back to service and taking him to treacherous overseas locations. And what of the elusive Nayda’s warning? That odd interaction definitely needs a resolution. Hop aboard this soul-searching journey — whether fact or fiction, it is sure to intrigue.
Back to Serve: Return of a Soldier is available for purchase.