One of the most fascinating things about the War Through the Generations reading challenges that I co-host with Serena from Savvy Verse & Wit has been learning how war affects everyone and every aspect of life. There are so many books covering so many different things for any given war, and it's impossible to read them all. Here are some of the categories I've discovered during my reading and my favorite titles for each.
In the Trenches
Trench warfare was hell. I can't imagine what the soldiers endured, and some of
the descriptions are graphic enough to make one physically ill. But some of
these books are beautifully written, including Strange Meeting by Susan
Hill, a novel about two young men who forge a close friendship in the
review) "Hill writes with a fondness and tenderness for these characters,
and her portrayal of two men who love one another (not romantically…at least I
didn’t take it that way) feels authentic under the circumstances. She shows men
who are both brave and scared and who turn to one another so that they do not
feel alone in such a dark moment in their lives."
Some of the homefront stories are just as fascinating as those depicting the
soldiers on the front lines. My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa
Young is a favorite of mine because it not only focuses on the soldiers, but
also on the women left behind. This period in history was one in which women
were becoming more independent and embracing their sexuality. Moreover, she
delves into the ways in which war altered relationships and goes into great
detail about the emergence of facial reconstruction surgery.
review) "My Dear I Wanted to Tell You is a novel that really gets to
the heart of what it means to go to war and how nothing will ever be the same
again for both the soldiers and their loved ones, even if they are lucky enough
to come home. Young doesn’t shy away from describing the horrific things that
happen in war, including the fear that prompted some soldiers to go to great
lengths to escape the fighting, and she also emphasizes the home front, from the
misinformation in the newspapers to the impact of the war on a marriage."
There really is something for everyone when it comes to war novels. Without
blogger recommendations, I never would have come across Overseas by
Beatriz Williams. It's a time-travel romance set mainly in New York City in
2008, but the storyline set during 1916 on the Western Front was the most
interesting. It's not a perfect book, but the author had me hooked!
review) "At the same time that Williams takes readers through all the ups
and downs of Julian and Kate’s relationship, she also transports them back to
the Great War, telling the story of Captain Ashford, a famous war poet, and the
woman who loves him so much she’ll do anything to prevent him from going back to
the front. The way in which Williams merges the two stories kept me on the edge
of my seat, and just when I thought I had it all figured out, she’d surprise me
It's important to introduce children to topics like war in a way that doesn't
overwhelm them with the horror but doesn't sugar-coat things either. Telling
the story through the eyes of a child with whom they can relate is also a plus.
Marcia Williams accomplishes all of this and more with Archie's War, a
scrapbook by the fictional Archie Albright complete with doodles, letters that
can be opened and read, and mementos from World War I. (And when you've
finished this one, you'll have to read the next book, My
Secret War Diary, which is another scrapbook-like novel set during World
War II and told from the point of view of Archie's daughter, Flossie.)
review) "Williams does a wonderful job merging the history of the war with
the antics of a young boy, who at a tender age must learn about loss, fear,
shell shock, and hunger but also finds hope and happiness in the countryside.
... Williams personalizes the war, letting readers see what happened through the
eyes of a young boy who feels so very real."
Where to Start
I know this blog focuses on historical fiction, but I must mention just one
non-fiction book. If you don't know much about World War I, you must read
The War to End All Wars by Russell Freedman. It's a condensed history of
what led up to the war and the major battles and is intended for middle-grade
readers. It's less than 200 pages, with numerous black-and-white photographs.
It's the perfect introduction to the war for both adults and children alike!
review) "Freedman provides a comprehensive and detailed account of World War
I, with chapters devoted to trench warfare, the war at sea, and the battles of
Verdun and the Somme. Most interesting was the chapter on the new weapons
employed during the war, such as machine guns and tanks. Freedman tells how
barbed wire played a major role in trench warfare, how poison gas was
introduced, and how developments in aviation led to the first dogfights and
eliminated the need for reconnaissance missions by the cavalry."
Even though 2012 is almost over, there's still time to participate in the WWI
Reading Challenge at War
Through the Generations (the lowest participation level requires you to read
just 1 book!). But even if you don't take part in the challenge, we hope you'll
check out the book reviews and recommended reading lists on the site.