In the Neighborhood of Zero


In the Neighborhood of Zero

A World War II Memoir

William V. Spanos

218 pages
1 illustration


April 2010


$29.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

April 2010


$29.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

Like so many soldiers of his generation, William V. Spanos was not much more than a boy when he went off to fight in World War II. In the chaos of his first battle, what would later become legendary as the Battle of the Bulge, he was separated from his antitank gun crew and taken prisoner in the Ardennes forest. Along with a procession of other prisoners of war, he was marched and conveyed by freight train to Dresden. Surviving the brutal conditions of the labor camps and the Allies’ devastating firebombing of the city, he escaped as the losing German army retreated.
For Spanos, this was never a “war story.” It was the singular, irreducible, unnameable, dreadful experience of war. In the face of the American myth of the greatest generation, this renowned literary scholar looks back at that time and crafts a dissident, dissonant remembrance of the “just war.” Retrieving the singularity of the experience of war from the grip of official American cultural memory, Spanos recaptures something of the boy’s life that he lost. His book is an attempt to rescue some semblance of his awakened being—and that of the multitude of young men who fought—from the oblivion to which they have been relegated under the banalizing memorialization of the “sacrifices of our greatest generation.”

Author Bio

William V. Spanos is Distinguished Professor of English and comparative literature at the State University of New York at Binghamton. He is the author of many books, including America’s Shadow: An Anatomy of Empire and American Exceptionalism in the Age of Globalization: The Specter of Vietnam.


“This is the most moving memoir of World War II that I have read, and the most honest. In a style lucid, powerful, and reflective, it gives the lie to any war being ‘the good war’ and discloses the fiery terror Britain and its U.S. ally rained down on Dresden and the terrible aftermath civilians and soldiers, on both sides, had to deal with. A masterpiece of the genre.”—Daniel T. O’Hara, professor of English and humanities at Temple University and author of Visions of Global America and the Future of Critical Reading

“William Spanos’s In the Neighborhood of Zero bears uncanny witness to the historical trauma of the fire-bombing of Dresden. In so doing, Spanos’s counter-memory exposes U.S. history’s efforts to replace the traumatic referent of Dresden with the narrative of America, the Redeemer Nation. Humanity in the neighborhood of zero, William Spanos reminds us, results in the becoming flesh of the state of emergency. As the witness to what cannot be articulated in historical categories, it is this figure who speaks the silences in Spanos’s unforgettable testimonial.”—Donald E. Pease, Avalon Foundation Chair of the Humanities at Dartmouth College and author of The New American Exceptionalism

“Professor Spanos deeply impacted my views on literature and language when I was a student of his, but nothing prepared me for the power and emotion of this memoir. It is an amazing saga of one man’s journey through World War II—but it is also the story of the immigrant experience in America, of a soldier, of a prisoner of war, of lost innocence and the courage needed to move past that loss. Most of all, it is unforgettable.”—Marc Lawrence, writer and director of Two Weeks Notice, Music and Lyrics, and Did You Hear About the Morgans?

"Written by an accomplished author, this thoughtful and unnerving memoir unearths his experience as a US GI in World War II, who was taken prisoner by the Germans and shipped to Dresden, where he witnessed the impact of the Allied firebombing of that city."—ForeWord

Table of Contents


1. Departure and Border Crossings: Newport, New Hampshire, to Cheltenham, England, Spring 1943<EN>1944

2. Captivity: Disintegration in the Ardennes Forest, December 10, 1944<EN>c. January 4, 1945

3. Arbeitskommando: Rabenau<EN>Dresden, c. January 5<EN>February 12, 1945

4. In the Neighborhood of Zero: Dresden, February 13<EN>14, 1945

5. Interlude: Dresden, February 18<EN>c. April 25, 1945

6. Persephone and the Beast: Brux, Czechoslovakia, c. April 26<EN>May 1, 1945

7. Love in the Ruins: Brux, Czechoslovakia, May 2<EN>13, 1945

8. Return: Camp Lucky Strike, Normandy, to Newport, New Hampshire, May 13<EN>June 1, 1945

Coda: Main Street, Newport, New Hampshire, August 15, 1945

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