Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Module 12 Biography and Autobiography

When I Was a Soldier 

by Valérie Zenatti


Valérie Zenatti explores her past as student and then as a soldier in the Israeli Army.  She enlists for a two year span when she turns eighteen and does well in training.  She is given an intelligence position.  She regularly listens in on various radio channels to observe and report activity of other military installments like neighboring countries.  She finds herself questioning the political standing of the military, but understands that there is no perfect answer.  Her friends also join the army as they turn eighteen and each of them have very different experiences.  During her time in the military Valérie forms a new friendship with coworker and reunites with another friend from school.     

Bibliographic Citation

Zenatti, V. (2002). When I Was a Solider. New York: Bloomsbury U.S.A. Children’s Books.

My Impressions of the Book

Valérie Zenatti’s memoir is a true coming of age tale.  She begins her service in the army with such excitement and hope for the future.  She initially holds on to an ex-boyfriend in the hopes that he will take her back and they will find happiness together.  She learns the hard way that she must make her on happiness and can’t rely on him to love her.  As Valérie gains confidence in her career with the army she transforms into a responsible adult with ideas and beliefs of her own.  Her story is compelling.  Readers should find her memoir enjoyable and her candid voice delightful.


In this compelling memoir, Zenatti, first among her group of friends to be called for compulsory military service, chronicles two years of growing up in the Israeli army between 1988 and 1990. With teen self-absorption, she describes the end of her high school years, her initial excitement with the uniform and gun, and grueling training. At first overwrought and pretentious, her voice matures as she continues her course, suffers an anxiety attack, and is posted to a security listening post. As Zenatti grows away from her old friends and a former boyfriend, she becomes more aware and open to the ideas, interests, and needs of others–even, eventually, to the Palestinians who share her country. It is true, as adults told her, "The army changes everything." Although immersed in the country and the experience at the time, Zenatti retains her outsider perspective. French by origin, she and her family emigrated to Beersheva when she was 13, where she learned Hebrew. Her love of language shines through, and the translation, though undeniably British, is smooth. Journal entries in italics are interspersed with the present-tense narrative. This is a fascinating glimpse of a different part of the world and a different kind of experience. Older readers, facing the end of high school themselves, will be drawn to this description of the interim between childhood and adulthood that is a universal Israeli experience.–Kathleen Isaacs, formerly at Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC

Isaacs, K. (2005, May 1). When I Was a Soldier. [Review of the book When I Was a Soldier, by V. Zenatti]. School Library Journal, 162.

Ideas for Library Use

Invite and class to the library after they have read When I Was a Soldier and challenge them to write a biography.  Introduce students to self publishing ideas. 

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