Friday, November 9, 2012

Something for Everyone in WWI Literature - A Guest Post by Anna Horner

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 trenches.

(from my 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."

Homefront

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.

(from my 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."

Romance

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!

(from my 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 again."

Children's

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.)

(from my 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!

(from my 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.

18 comments:

  1. The last book which I read which would b e relevant to this meme is The Gendarme. I did not even know about the Armenian genocide before I read this book. This kind of book is intense and it touches one deeply. As you say war has affected each of us in some way or the other.

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    1. The Gendarme also was my introduction to the Armenian Genocide. The historical parts of the story were heartbreaking, but I didn't care as much for the present-day story.

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  2. These are some great recommendations. I would add the WWI poetry book to that list as well. I think its a good mix of not only warfare in the trenches, but patriotism and friendships...plus a look at our own mortality

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    1. I knew you were going to cover that one!

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  3. I know where to go to find great recommendations on books about WWI and WWII. Your challenge and your blog with your well-written reviews is one of my favorites. Thanks, Anna!

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    1. Thank you so much! Serena and I spend a lot of time updating the recommended reading pages on War Through the Generations, and we just hope it's a helpful resource.

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  4. I do mean to read the Louisa Young book one day :I)

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    1. I hope you get to it. I think it's one you'd like.

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  5. You are so well versed on all of these books and the impact they made on you. I already have marked a few of them to read!

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    1. Thank you! Hope you get a chance to read them.

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  6. You're reviews are wonderful. WWI became real for me when we visited Verdun, France and saw the actual trenches as well as the villages that were litterly wiped off the map.

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    1. Wow, that must have been so powerful. Whenever I get a chance to visit Europe (someday...I'm determined!), some of those sites are on my list.

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  7. I don't read much in this genre, but I really should pick one up. These all sound intense and wonderfully written. Thanks Anna!

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  8. Anna, what a wonderful list! I still need to read As Always, Jack, which I won on your insightful blog.

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  9. Anna, did you ever see the 1981 Australian movie Gallipoli? (stars Mel Gibson before he was bad! LOL) If anyone wants to get the full impact of how horrible trench warfare was, this is the movie to see, in my opinion! (I think that actually seeing it instead of reading about it gives it even more impact)

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    1. No, I actually don't think I've seen a single WWI movie, which is so sad. I'll have to see if I can find it on Netflix.

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