Having been an infantry EM and officer, having had experience in
modern Eastern European history, and having been in the USSR and
Slovakia, the terrain (south of the Dukla Pass) seems realistic.
The decline of the German Army, with sergeants in company command
and lack of officer combat experience (Schmitt and Giesinger), also seems appropriate for late 1944. General Stiller is striking in his hardness, and in his role as a "fireman" at a
desperate juncture, as is the hardness of the Russian Nikolash,
who will use Margita and the Slovak anti-German partisans without
mercy but with ambition. This book shows the Slovaks and Volksdeutsche well, as does Heinrich's "Jahre Wie Tau" (never
printed in English), particularly Kolodzi in his desperate attempts to save Maria; Kolodzi eventually puts life over the
war, after 5 years; an effective ending from an author who never
deserted in his Eastern Front career. This novel is not as good
as the other two cited, but is certainly worth reading
The blurb on the cover says the author came by his experience the hard way, and it shows. I came to the book in spots of reading stretched out over some months, so I had to go back and recall which character was which and consequently found it a slow start, but it has a hell of a second half!
The three classes of characters also bear watching, with their inside codes of behavior and their codes between each class: civilian, enlisted, and officer.
If, as they say, life is a story we intend to write one way that ends up writing us another way, there must obviously be no worse setting for it than wartime. These terrifying backdrops give the novel a chance to squeeze every inch of definition out of each character so that by novel's end there's a handful of painful character sketches that all deserve to be remembered: (in order of the vivid traces they've left within me, from the strongest first) Schmitt, Giesinger, Stiller, Margita, Kolodzi, Herbig. There's at least half a score of minor characters who, because they are so much in type, do more than most such in the few pages they appear: Matuska, Teltschik, Baumgartner, Nikolash, and the fat Gestapoman.
This book must certainly have done all its author could reasonably expect it to do. I give it one less star for the type it intends to put itself in: gritty with a kind of hunkered down marching forward through the inferno with little hope of a succeeding purgatorio, much less paradisio, but then, that's pretty much what I guess the real thing must have been like (though there is Schmitt's open sky and his admiration for wolves), and for that, on second thought, I should say, this book is as good as it can get.