Letters to Sis

Memoirs of a Soldier

Non-Fiction - Memoir
214 Pages
Reviewed on 01/12/2017
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Mamta Madhavan for Readers' Favorite

Letters to Sis: Memoirs of a Soldier by CW3 Cesare Giannetti U.S. Army (Ret.) is a heartwarming memoir written by the author to his sister Marisa from the time he joined the Army to her death from breast cancer. The memoirs not only memorialize his sister, but also share his experiences and memories as a soldier. The book chronicles the period when he was stationed abroad and also gives him the chance to share with his daughter the experiences, good and bad, he has undergone in his life. The physical and mental abuse he has gone through during his stint in the Army, the bond he shared with his sister, and the losses he saw during his lifetime make this memoir a memorable read.

The narration is detailed and descriptive and it makes the author’s story vivid, pulling readers right into his world. The letters he has written to his sister and his need to share every little thing with her, and her support of him, are a reflection of the strong bond between them which is palpable to readers. The author’s journey, his growth as a person, love, the letters and conversations with his sister, the songs he adds in between the words give readers a peek into his life and him as a person. The characters and experiences being real connect well with readers and they get to see many shades of the author’s character and personality. The memoir is a must-read as it is not just about war; it is about courage, loss, support, love, and personal growth.

Emily-Jane Hills Orford

Some personal stories are not easy to share, but, in the act of sharing, we have the potential of helping others in similar situations, as well as honoring those who otherwise might be forgotten in time. There is a purpose in life, a purpose that is not always clear when we are younger. Life’s purpose may be the difficult and honorable task of sharing our stories. As we go through our lives, doing the best to find our purpose, we create bonds with others: some of these bonds are close, others are fragile and meaningless. A special bond is not something to be taken lightly and it is not something that will shatter with the ravages of time and fate.

CW3 Cesare Giannetti, U.S. Army (Retired), shared a special bond with his sister, Marisa. While serving overseas in Germany, the Gulf, Croatia, and Bosnia, Cesare wrote long letters to his sister. This was in the 1980s and 1990s, before the internet, before affordable overseas telephone calls. Letters were the means of connecting with friends and family. Writing to his sister, Cesare was able to share his ups and downs, his challenges, his insecurities. By writing to his sister, he benefited from a sense of release, an unburdening of his soul. Marisa kept all of Cesare’s letters, promising to return them when he retired from the army. He did have all the letters returned, but not until after his sister had fought her own deadly battle with cancer, a battle she lost.

CW3 Cesare Giannetti’s Letters to Sis is a memoir of one man’s service to his country and one man’s powerful bond with his sister. As he wrote in one of his letters from Bosnia, “Soldiers go through a lot… Some get divorced, some get promoted, and some get demoted. All get frustrated. But the ones I’ve seen succeed and fare well all had faith in something – God, family, or themselves. Something.” Cesare’s faith was in God and his sister. This is a heartrending story, a testament of faith, a testament of brother/sister love, a testament of selfless service to one’s country. It is also a story about one man coming to terms with himself and his life, sometimes under very difficult and life-threatening situations.

Marta Tandori

Letters to Sis by Cesare Giannetti is a heartwarming and, at times, heart-wrenching account of a brother’s abiding love and affection for his older sister, Marisa, tragically taken from him and his family far too young, thanks to aggressive breast cancer. The year is 1987 and Cesare is seventeen years old. He, along with his two brothers and sister, remained in New Jersey while their father moved after divorcing their mother in 1979 to a small town outside of Houston. Cesare’s future looks bleak – attending local community college, living at home while working at a minimum wage job. He knows that if he wants to make something of himself, he needs capital, experience, and an education, and what better way to achieve all that than by enlisting in the U.S. Army? Cesare enlists and is soon on his way to Germany, his home base for the foreseeable future. During this time, he and his sister write to each other regularly, often quoting the verses of songs in their letters and making references to books. Time marches on and soon Cesare’s friends are beginning to marry and have kids of their own. Even Marisa’s letters begin to reference a guy called Giacomo, who Marisa’s beginning to think might be “the one.”

Life is good in Germany; the army digs are decent, the food and drinks plentiful, and the girls more than willing. During his deployment in Germany, Cesare travels throughout parts of Europe and is eventually deployed to the Persian Gulf, but is able to come back to Germany in one piece. Cesare soon meets Anja, whose family lives close to the army base. She and Cesare become an item and, during his second visit back home to the States, Cesare takes Anja to meet his family. By this time, Marisa and Giacomo are a couple and everyone has a good time, with Cesare reveling in his reunion with his sister. One brother, Rico, has since moved to Texas and works with their father.

Cesare eventually marries Anja while Marisa marries Giacomo (“Giac”). However, it doesn’t take long for Cesare to realize he has made a mistake and the two soon split. In October of 1995, soon after her marriage to Giac and turning thirty years old, Marisa is diagnosed with breast cancer. Cesare is heartbroken and fearful but can do very little since he’s about to be deployed to war-ravaged Bosnia. Hardly an idyllic deployment, he keeps up with his letters to his sister, trying to keep things positive. In early 1996, he finds out that Marisa has moved from New Jersey to Houston for her cancer treatments. Cesare finally leaves Bosnia in August, 1996, and heads straight back to New Jersey where, after picking up his mother, they both head to Houston to see Marisa. Cesare and his mother are shocked and fearful to see how frail Marisa has become, but don’t want to dampen her happiness over their reunion. The reunion proves to be a somber one as Marisa is hospitalized the next day and subsequently moved to hospice care, where she passes away a short while later, not even a year after her cancer diagnosis.

Not only is Letters to Sis a poignant memorial of one brother’s love for his sister, but it’s also a diary, if you will, of one young man’s journey into adulthood. The author’s prose is informal, interspersed with the letters to his sister and, in some cases, his sister’s letters to him. Throughout it all, there are shared poems by Robert Frost, sonnets by William Shakespeare, song lyrics by AC/DC, Bryan Adams and Bon Jovi, among others. In a way, Letters to Sis chronicles the last days of Cesare’s innocence as he leaves boyhood behind and embarks on his journey to manhood. We, the audience, vicariously experience Cesare’s life overseas in the Army, and watch as the drinking and good times with his fellow soldiers give way to a more solid foundation and an actual future. All in all, Letters to Sis is poignant, wistful, wonderfully compelling, and written from the heart.

Deborah Lloyd

CW3 Cesare Giannetti, U.S. Army (Ret.) details the joys and challenges in his life from 1987 through 2014, including military, family and personal aspects in his nonfictional work, Letters to Sis. Seventeen-year-old Cesare, from Parsipanny, New Jersey, was wrestling with many life decisions as he approached high school graduation. Cesare has a twin brother, Rich; another brother, Rico; his sister Marisa; his mother with whom he lived; and his father in Texas. While beer keg parties and hanging out with friends consumed much of his energy, Cesare also had aspirations of joining the military and seeing the world. He also appreciated good music, with meaningful lyrics. His story includes serving in the Persian Gulf War, peacekeeping in Croatia and Bosnia, and being based in Germany, with fun-filled travels throughout Europe. Marisa is his main support throughout his overseas adventures. While there are telephone calls, letter writing is the primary mode of sharing their feelings, as well as good and difficult times.

There are several themes that exist throughout this book – a realistic portrayal of military life; the effects of divorce and physical separation of family members; the poignancy of strongly-connected siblings. In Letters to Sis, CW3 Cesare Giannetti, U.S. Army (Ret.) competently manages to weave these themes together in an interesting manner. The reader is engaged in his story and is profoundly touched when Marisa is diagnosed with breast cancer while he is living overseas. The author’s use of music lyrics and poems is one of the techniques he used in connecting the various parts of his life together. Also in the book are many of his letters to Marisa. This book is both heartwarming and heartbreaking – a lovely memoir.

Kathryn Bennett

Letters to Sis: Memoirs of a Soldier by Cesare Giannetti takes you into the life of a real soldier serving his country. The letters take place over a 9-year period, starting from the author's first days of enlistment in the United States army to when his sister passed away. You will follow the story through times overseas, as the Berlin wall falls and through Desert Storm. Follow a soldier as he goes all over the world and writes home to his dear sister, letters that will stand the test of time and offer a story for future generations.

I have always enjoyed reading letters from soldiers of all different generations so I was very excited to get to read letters from a modern soldier. This memoir has been put together very nicely and it is interesting to read the letters that were sent to a much loved sister. You can feel the relationship between brother and sister as much as you can read about the events of the world as seen through the eyes of one of our brave men serving. I think anyone who has even a passing interest in the military and life in general should read this memoir. It is so well put together that you can really follow along the world events as well as private ones through the letters. There are emotional ups and downs and, when it comes down to it, this memoir was just as good if not better than any work of fiction.

Jamie Michele

Letters to Sis by Cesare Giannetti, US Army (Ret), is the memoir of the author, built around a compilation of letters and conversations between himself and his sister, Marisa. It begins with Cesare Giannetti as a green, optimistic seventeen-year-old, and then follows him as he is stationed over the years throughout Europe and the Persian Gulf, in some of US modern military history's most momentous episodes. Throughout all his stations, war, relationships, and personal growth, he has the unwavering support of his sister, who is ultimately thrust into a battle of her own. In the most heartbreaking turn of events, Giannetti — who has proven his ability to combat anything — is helpless in the face of his sister's illness.

In the age of military memoirs that focus almost exclusively on the acts of war, the heroism of the writer, and its aftermath alone, Letters to Sis by Cesare Giannetti breaks the mold in its genre. Giannetti takes us on his journey and, while giving us a first person account of his experiences, he is also able to dig much deeper and show a side we haven't seen before. By dancing between letters, dialogue, and his own narrative, additional characters are much more thoroughly developed than most first person accounts. And they should be, because Giannetti's characters are real people — as are his experiences. Letters to Sis doesn't have any of the loathsome humble-bragging one might expect. On the contrary, Giannetti displays the humility and honor one would hope for in a veteran, and he cloaks it nobly in a remarkable story of struggle, growth, and love.

Tracy A. Fischer

In a lovely book that shares the bonds of familial love between a brother and sister, Letters to Sis: Memoirs of a Soldier by debut author Cesare Giannetti is certainly a story that will stay with readers long after they have turned the last page. The book follows the author's life from his entry into the military and throughout his placements during his career with the military, all through the letters he wrote to his beloved sister, Marisa. It's fascinating to see how both Mr. Giannetti's life and his relationship with his sister grow and develop through the time they are apart and the letters they share. Details of life in the military also abound, from cadence songs during basic training to the very real and sometimes scary experiences during tense times.

I very much enjoyed Letters to Sis: Memoirs of a Soldier. Readers will feel as if they truly get to know author Cesare Giannetti as well as his sister, even though the only way we hear her "voice" is when the author references things that they did together or letters that she wrote him and to which he is responding. Reading Cesare's letters feels like an intimate peek into this man and his family's life, and is made all the more heartrending when readers find that Marisa passed away from breast cancer much too soon. I am very pleased to recommend this moving book to any reader who loves a great memoir or is interested in the realities of military life. I certainly hope that author Cesare Gianetti will continue his efforts in writing; he appears to have a unique and powerful voice and I would certainly enjoy reading more from him.