World War I

All posts in the World War I category

Stay Where You Are And Then Leave – John Boyne

Published March 28, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

The day the First World War broke out, Alfie Summerfield’s father promised he wouldn’t go away to fight – but he broke that promise the following day. Four years later, Alfie doesn’t know where his father might be, other than that he’s away on a special, secret mission.

Then, while shining shoes at King’s Cross Station, Alfie unexpectedly sees his father’s name – on a sheaf of papers belonging to a military doctor. Bewildered and confused, Alfie realises his father is in a hospital close by – a hospital treating soldiers with an unusual condition. Alfie is determined to rescue his father from this strange, unnerving place . . .

What did I think?:

I was already pre-disposed to like this novel having read a few of the authors other works, including his arguably most famous novel The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas (if you haven’t read it yet, why not?!). Furthermore, after reading the synopsis and learning that it was set in the horrific time period that was the First World War, I had no doubt that the author would do it justice and attract many new readers/fans in the process. Our main character is a young five year old boy called Alfie Summerfield who begs his father not to leave the family and fight, a promise broken by his father the very next day which understandably, devastates him.

Fast forward four years to an entirely different family dynamic. Alfie’s mother, Margie works hard and long hours to try and put food on their table but somehow it just never seems to be enough. Alfie takes it upon himself to cut school and shine shoes at King’s Cross station to try and bring in some extra money and keep the small family’s head above water. There has been no word from Alfie’s father during this time, although Margie reassures Alfie that his father is on a special secret mission where he is unable to contact them. Alfie accepts this fact although slightly sceptical, yet his world falls apart when one day after shining a military doctors shoes, he notices his fathers name on a list of the doctors patients who are in hospital in England.

Alfie becomes determined to travel to the hospital by any means to discover the truth about his father in the hope that he can bring him home so that they can all be a family again. Life, as we know, is not that simple and Alfie is horrified to discover that the father he comes across is not the father that he remembers. Georgie Summerfield is suffering from extreme shell shock and is not making much progress, not even recognising his own son. Yet with a bravery beyond his young years Alfie is hell-bent on a mission to try and make his father better and return him to the home where he belongs.

This was such a beautiful novel from John Boyne that I thoroughly enjoyed and can picture being read and taught to children for many years to come. I loved the sensitive way in which the war was written about i.e. not overly graphic but with enough information for younger readers so that they do not feel in any way patronised. Also, I’m really glad that the author tackled the subject of shell shock – a trauma often overlooked or undermined by the medical profession at that time (and sometimes even now!). It was also interesting to read about the men who were treated and labelled as cowards either for running from the trenches, not fighting at all or being from a different and therefore suspect culture. This was a novel so thoughtfully presented and brilliantly executed that I’m certain it will stay with me for a long time to come.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Talking About The Lie by Helen Dunmore with Chrissi

Published July 11, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Set during and just after the First World War, The Lie is an enthralling, heart-wrenching novel of love, memory and devastating loss by one of the UK’s most acclaimed storytellers.

Cornwall, 1920, early spring.

A young man stands on a headland, looking out to sea. He is back from the war, homeless and without family.

Behind him lie the mud, barbed-wire entanglements and terror of the trenches. Behind him is also the most intense relationship of his life.

Daniel has survived, but the horror and passion of the past seem more real than the quiet fields around him.

He is about to step into the unknown. But will he ever be able to escape the terrible, unforeseen consequences of a lie?

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: What do you see as “the lie” of the title?

BETH: I’m going to try and answer this question quite vaguely as I don’t want to give away any spoilers! Basically, I think there are quite a lot of lies in this novel made by more than one character. Our main character Daniel has a huge secret about the war that he played a part in but I feel he is also lying to himself about not only the kind of person he is, but how he is coping with life after the Great War i.e. re-adjusting to being a civilian, and that he hasn’t fully dealt with the loss that he experienced while at war. Felicia is also living a lie, pretending that she can cope by herself, alone in a big house with a small child to look after. There are other lies too which seem small at first but have consequences for our characters, basically the title of this book sums it up quite well!
BETH: The story is set over a few time periods in Daniel’s life – pre-war, during the war, and post-war (the present time). Which one did you enjoy the most and why?
CHRISSI: I found it interesting to read from different time periods in Daniel’s life. I think my favourite time to read about was post-war because it was intriguing to see how Daniel’s life experiences affected his present day life.
CHRISSI: The book uses different forms of media i.e. poems. Do you think this worked?
BETH: I was actually pleasantly surprised to see poetry in this novel, as I wasn’t expecting it. Some of the poetry that Daniel can quote by heart is really beautiful and did actually make me want to look up the original work. Before each chapter we also had a paragraph of text with advice for the soldiers of World War I which I found quite moving to read when you consider the amount of men that had to die for the world to be at peace.
BETH: What did you think of the relationship between Daniel and Frederick?
CHRISSI: I really liked that Daniel and Fredrick were such good friends despite their different social standing, they don’t realise the difference between them. I thought Daniel and Fredrick’s relationship became laced with guilt and incredibly affected by the war. I’m trying not to say too much as I don’t know what would spoil it, but Daniel is definitely affected by what happened to Frederick. I wondered if Daniel believed it should never had happened because Fredrick was ‘better’ than him.
CHRISSI: Discuss Daniel’s state of mind throughout the novel.
BETH: Poor Daniel! I really felt for him in this novel after everything he had seen in the war and losing people that he loved the most. Not only this, but he is carrying around a heavy guilt that does not lift but is indeed exacerbated by being in contact with Felicia, the sister of his dearest friend. He is experiencing vivid hallucinations and even smells associated with that terrible period in his life, and often has to re-live certain experiences that have long since passed. When we consider that they did not really recognise or treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the early part of the 20th century, there must have been a number of young men suffering in silence. Daniel’s state of mind, which seems to be getting progressively worse as the story continues, was almost inevitable after the trauma of war.
BETH: Was the ending what you expected?
CHRISSI: I think I began to anticipate that this story wasn’t going to be a happily ever after story. It’s not often that war stories end in a joyful way. It was hard to watch everything unravel, but I do think that the ending was the right ending for this story.  The lies that have been told were never meant with malice, good intentions were at the heart of the lie.
CHRISSI: Did this book live up to your expectations?
BETH: Strangely enough, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this novel. I enjoyed The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore, which is also a war-time novel, but I think I actually enjoyed this one more. Certainly after answering these questions, and remembering/re-analysing the story, I enjoyed it even more than I thought I did when I finished it, if that makes any sense? It’s definitely one I’m still thinking about.
BETH: Would you read another book by this author?
CHRISSI: Like you, I’ve read The Greatcoat and enjoyed it, so the answer is yes! I really like Helen Dunmore’s writing, so I’d definitely look into reading more of her work. She is a beautiful writer.
Would WE recommend it?:
BETH: But of course!
CHRISSI: Yes!
Star rating (out of 5):
BETH’s Star rating:
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CHRISSI’s Star rating:
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The Long Weekend, A Social History of Great Britain 1918-1939 by Robert Graves and Alan Hodge

Published February 2, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

A classic social history by two distinguished writers who lived through the time. “The long week-end” is the authors’ evocative phrase for the period in Great Britain’s social history between the twin devastations of the Great War and World War II. From a postwar period of prosperity and frivolity through the ever-darkening decade of the thirties, The Long Week-End deftly and movingly preserves the details and captures the spirit of the time.

What did I think?:

I read this book as part of a British Empire challenge hosted by one of my groups on GoodReads, eager to learn a little more about the history of the time between the two World Wars. The authors note that the “Long Weekend” kicked off with the Armistice and ended with a telegram from Hitler, however it focuses on that time in-between where so much of note happened to change the world yet is generally ignored, being sandwiched between the atrocities that happened in two World Wars. We have the famed Roaring Twenties followed by the Threadbare Thirties due to the Depression, yet we also have huge events such as the first women in Parliament and the first flights across the Atlantic. With chapter headings like The Days of the Loch Ness Monster, Education and Ethics, Amusements, Pacifism, Nudism, Hiking and Three Kings in One Year, the authors cover a lot of ground with interesting and relevant information and facts to keep the reader turning the page.

Personally, I thought this book was jam-packed with intriguing bits of trivia that made me feel like I had learned a lot about the time period whilst giving me the drive to go read even more. However, I did feel that the structure was somewhat clunky in parts, and it is clear that it was written in a hurry to describe events immediately before it was published. It was interesting to read how much the world changed in this short period of time regarding new technology and media, how the politicians of whatever government was in power would stick their heads in the sand when threatened with the prospect of another war, and how the older generations were horrified at the behaviour of the youngsters of the time – hmm… perhaps like nowadays? I think we do have to remember when the book was written i.e. at the beginning of the Second World War, so some views and statements may be slightly dated by today’s standards. In general though, this was an interesting read, that although I wouldn’t read it again, I’m glad I did as I feel a better appreciation and understanding of the history of the period.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

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A Month in the Country – J.L. Carr

Published December 14, 2013 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

In J. L. Carr’s deeply charged poetic novel, Tom Birkin, a veteran of the Great War and a broken marriage, arrives in the remote Yorkshire village of Oxgodby where he is to restore a recently discovered medieval mural in the local church. Living in the bell tower, surrounded by the resplendent countryside of high summer, and laboring each day to uncover an anonymous painter’s depiction of the apocalypse, Birkin finds that he himself has been restored to a new, and hopeful, attachment to life. But summer ends, and with the work done, Birkin must leave. Now, long after, as he reflects on the passage of time and the power of art, he finds in his memories some consolation for all that has been lost.

What did I think?:

I read this novel as it was a book club choice, and I had heard so many good things about it. The story centres around a man called Tom Birkin who is pursuing a new career where he uncovers hidden relics i.e. paintings, after being discharged from the army post World War I. His new assignment takes him to the village of Oxgodby in Yorkshire where he is set the task of restoring a mural in the local church in which he also makes his home for the summer. The book tackles a number of different themes including war and the trauma experienced by its survivors, love and the paths we make for ourselves, religion, the process of ageing, and how we store our memories. Sadly, Birkin has been highly traumatised by the experiences he went through as a soldier, and in the break-up of his marriage, but through his work in the church and his interactions with the people in the vicinity learns to come back from the brink of despair, appreciate life more fully, and perhaps even fall in love again. I did enjoy the optimistic message of hope that came through the writing, and it was interesting to watch Birkin grow as an individual as the painting was uncovered over that memorable summer.

I’m sorry to say that even though I appreciated the beauty of this novel and what the author was trying to do, it did not resonate with me as much as I hoped it might. It was certainly atmospheric, and the author has a gift when describing evocative sights, sounds and smells. Moreover, I was intrigued enough by the character of Birkin that I wanted to finish the novel, but it just felt like something was missing for me. On the positive side, there was an undercurrent of humour throughout that did amuse me and I particularly enjoyed the scene where Birkin is harangued into preaching at the church, and does so with good grace but with considerable awkwardness, being neither religious nor a preacher! I probably wouldn’t read this novel again, but I am glad that I did read it, even just for the poetic undertones and descriptions of the suffering of war veterans.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

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Life After Life – Kate Atkinson

Published September 5, 2013 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Clearly history (and Kate Atkinson) have plans for her: In Ursula rests nothing less than the fate of civilization.

Wildly inventive, darkly comic, startlingly poignant — this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best, playing with time and history, telling a story that is breathtaking for both its audacity and its endless satisfactions.

What did I think?:

I’ve been meaning to read some Kate Atkinson for a while, and when she was short-listed for the Woman’s Prize for Fiction 2013, for this, her latest novel, I thought this would be a good place to start. It is the story of Ursula who is born in 1910, and has a nasty habit of dying quite a lot. I say a lot, as each time she dies, she is reincarnated again (into the same family) but each time she is given a new shot at life, she gets that little bit further along by avoiding the incident that led to her death in the first place. Sounds confusing, but somehow, Kate Atkinson makes it work, but how she kept track of all the different strands I’ll never understand!

The deaths take a variety of forms, at different ages as mentioned – from the first where she is strangled by her umbilical cord during her mother’s pregnancy, to the Spanish flu and being killed by a bomb explosion during the Second World War. Each death brings originality and a new little curiosity to us as the reader, as we wonder how she will avoid the same fate next time round. Ursula is not completely aware that she is preventing her own death each time, but feels an ominous sort of dread. Some of the decisions she makes are quite small and not particularly life-changing, for example, simply deciding not to step out onto the roof as a child, saves her from her fate. Other decisions determine that she will never have the chance to be a mother. And, of course, what would her life have been like if she had the chance to meet Hitler in 1930 and shoot him?

I wasn’t sure about this book at first, but once I had read the first few chapters and got into the swing of things, I absolutely loved it and thought it was an incredibly unique way to tell a story. The characters were all fascinating, and some parts were truly gripping, having me turn the pages (okay, tap my Kindle) long into the night. Heart-breaking and poignant in parts and shocking and gritty in others as the war rages and Ursula joins a bomb raid rescue team. I don’t think I will ever forget the “corpse coming apart like a Christmas cracker” section…. but I’m not going to say any more, you’ll just have to read it!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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My Dear I Wanted To Tell You – Louisa Young

Published August 12, 2013 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

The lives of two very different couples are irrevocably intertwined and forever changed in this stunning World War I epic of love and war.

From the day in 1907 that eleven-year-old Riley Purefoy meets Nadine Waveney, daughter of a well-known orchestral conductor, he takes in the difference between their two families: his, working-class; hers, “posh” and artistic. Just a few years later, romance and these differences erupt simultaneously with the war in Europe. In a fit of fury and boyish pride, Riley enlists in the army and finds himself involved in the transformative nightmare of the twentieth century.

While Riley and his commanding officer, Peter Locke, fight for their country and their survival in the trenches of Flanders, Peter’s lovely and naive wife, Julia, and his cousin Rose eagerly await his return. But the sullen, distant man who arrives home on leave is not the Peter they knew. Worried that her husband is slipping away, Julia is left alone with her fears when Rose joins the nursing corps to work with a pioneering plastic surgeon treating wounded and disfigured soldiers.

Only eighteen at the outbreak of the war, Nadine and Riley want to make promises to each other—but how can they when their future is out of their hands? Youthful passion is on their side, but then their loyalty is tested by terrible injury, and even more so by the necessarily imperfect rehabilitation that follows.

Moving among Ypres, London, and Paris, this emotionally rich and evocative novel is both a powerful exploration of the lasting effects of war on those who fight—and those who don’t—and a poignant testament to the power of enduring love.

What did I think?:

I’ve actually read this book once before pre-blog days, as it was part of the Richard and Judy Spring Book Club list in 2012, and if there’s ever a case for re-reading a book I state it here absolutely and positively. Not that I didn’t enjoy reading it first time around, but I think it got lost somewhere among the awesome books that were on the list that season: Me Before You – Jojo Moyes, The Help – Kathryn Stockett, Before I Go To Sleep – S.J. Watson, The Story of Beautiful Girl – Rachel Simon. You get the picture. Anyway, this is the story of Riley and Nadine, who spend most of their childhood together, despite differing backgrounds – him being poor, her family comfortably rich. Romance blossoms, but Riley is made aware from Nadine’s family that under no circumstances should he consider dallying with her, he’s just not in her class in their opinion. So Riley decides to sign up for the war, with an air of nonchalance, but also for proving himself worthy and acceptable for Nadine. They write to each other while he is at the Front, cold and stilted letters from him at first as he tries to protect both of them from the horrors of the war. However, Nadine has joined up as a volunteer nurse to help with the injured soldiers at the hospital and has no qualms having “seen it all before.” Disaster strikes (as it often does!) in the form of a terrible injury which may threaten their relationship for good.

I was almost dumbstruck by how I enjoyed this book more the second time round as previously mentioned, and it was so terribly sad that I actually had to read it in fits and spurts. I think it obviously makes a story more poignant and emotional when it is based on realism, but the real strength lies in the writing of the author, and her ability to tug at our heart strings, leaving us no choice but to have to put the book down for a while to ponder and collect ourselves. There is also a second story weaving through the narrative, that of Riley’s Commanding Officer, Peter, his wife Julia, and Peter’s cousin Rose who also works in a hospital with the injured and dying. This story related the nature of mental injury in contrast to physical disabilities, the former rarely talked about as a hazard of wartime and has only fairly recently come to light with the nature of so many PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) casualties in war veterans. I thought that it was very important that this was highlighted in contrast with the physical traumas and think the author made an excellent job of it. Finally, I admire the way the author has told the stories of the people who remain behind and have to learn to cope with things, in particular, Julia, who is not counted on much apart from having a pretty face, and goes through quite a traumatic ordeal when the normality of her life and marriage is disrupted.

A beautiful and emotional read that will stay with me for a while so that in future, I will definitely keep an open mind about re-reading a book I found just “good,” this book is a little gem which should not be under-appreciated.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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