Sunday 11 November 2012
Post on Remembrance Day...
It is a bright, sunny, mild November day as we remember those who have served in the armed forces since World War I. I thought it appropriate, then, to write about some books I’ve read set in WWI, WWII, or books where war is a significant component.
The first book I think of when I think of “war fiction” is, of course, The Wars by Timothy Findley. This Governor General’s Award-winning title tells the story of a young Canadian soldier in WWI, and while it has been many years since I’ve read it, I remember it being one of the most moving and heartbreaking novels ever.
Another novel about Canadians during the first World War is Joseph Boyden’s Three Day Road. This novel tells the story of two Cree boys and their experiences fighting on the battlefields of France and Belgium. This novel is told through the narration of the grandmother of one of the boys, one of the last in a line of healers in the family. This moving novel would appeal to both male and female readers.
A novel I often forget about when thinking of “war fiction” is Slaughterhouse Five, or The Children’s Crusade by Kurt Vonnegut. The main character of this satirical novel is Billy Pilgrim, a young man fighting in WWII who, while being held as a prisoner in Dresden, becomes unstuck in time and experiences his life in a non-linear fashion, jumping from present to future to past, and back again. Once again, it has been many years since I’ve read this novel, but it is a classic that deserves to be reread.
I recalled another novel I read years ago by Pat Barker, Regeneration, the first in a trilogy of novels, that deals with the history of psychology and the treatment of shell shock for British soldiers during WWI. This novel was nominated for the Book Prize in 1991. The other two books in the trilogy are The Eye in the Door and The Ghost Road (which won the Booker Prize in 1995). I have the trilogy on my bookshelf, but have only ever read the first novel - perhaps I should read the other two.
Of course, Sophie’s Choice by William Styron must be included in this list. This novel tells the moving story of Sophie, a woman who arrives in New York after WWII, during which time she was held in a concentration camp after the Nazis invaded Poland. Her involvement with manic lover Nathan, and the aspiring writer who lives across the hall, and the choice she had to make upon entering the camp, form the basis of the novel. We read this novel for my book group in September 2009, and then watched the movie starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline. Both book and film are, in my opinion, brilliant and heartbreaking.
For my new book group, we read Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan. I’m sure I wrote about this novel in a post sometime in May of this year, but just to recap, this novel tells the story of a group of jazz musicians in Europe during WWII, some of the members German but black, some American and black, and the racial problems they face during this turbulent period in history. I’m sure that, even if you haven’t read the novel, everyone is familiar with the title and premise, as this novel has garnered many prestigious award wins and nominations since its publication in 2011.
Of course, there are a couple of non-fiction titles that deal with the war experience that I must mention. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank is another heartbreaking read. I remember reading it for the first time just before I went to Amsterdam, where I went to the Anne Frank Museum and walked through the door that led upstairs to the room where her family was hiding during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. I recall how impressed I was by the writing skill exhibited by one so young, especially in her own personal diary, which was never intended for publication. She was not writing for an audience, yet what style her writing showed.
And Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning is another title that must be mentioned here. This book relates the author’s experiences during his internment in a concentration camp in WWII and his psychotherapeutic methods of finding a reason to live, despite the hopelessness of the situation and the devastating loss experienced during that time. Once again, it is a book that deserves to be reread.
There are other books that I have read, and some that I plan to read, that deal with the war experience or the aftermath of war on individuals, which I will list here:
In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason (experiences of a Vietnam vet and the effects of Agent Orange)
Smoky Joe’s Café by Bryce Courtenay (Australian novel about the effects of Agent Orange on a Vietnam vet)
Angels in the Gloom by Anne Perry (part of her “World War I” trilogy)
Hart's War by John Katzenbach (experiences of an American POW as he tries to defend an African American soldier accused of murder - on my list to read)
Thin Red Line by James Jones (about the battle between American and Japanese troops on the island of Guadalcanal - on my list to read)
So many books about war, and yet the wars still go on.
Lest we forget…
Bye for now