Thursday, November 11, 2010

On Veterans Day, Looking at War in Fiction

Fiction is ripe with conflict and war, and I've read a few volumes that can attest to that on this Veterans Day.

Ian McEwan's controversial, excellent novel Atonement captures the before and after of war, of tragedy, of irrevocable words.  Briony is a blossoming writer on the cusp of womanhood in the years before England joined World War II.  One stifling summer day, she witnesses private scenes misinterpreted through her youthful filter and comes to a disastrous conclusion.  We see the war through the eyes of a foot soldier on the way to Dunkirk through the French countryside and through the eyes of a student nurse in a London hospital.  It's been named "the book most likely to be thrown across the room," so be prepared.

In Blackout and All Clear, Connie Willis shows the heroes of WWII were not just the ones on the front.  In this two-part novel, Professor Dunworthy sends his Oxford historians to Pearl Harbor, Singapore, Dunkirk and London to confirm the information recorded about the war.  Michael is sent back specifically to witness and record heroism on the battlefront.  Polly lives in London and works as a shopgirl.  Charles is a Navy officer practicing golf and etiquette in the months before the invasion by Japan. Eileen is the caretaker of children sent to the English countryside during the early years of England's involvement in the war.

However, when three of them are thrown together by chance and necessity, they discover the very act of leaving the Tube station after a bombing required a heroism one does not consider under normal circumstances.

To top it all off, there's something going on with time travel that has Mr. Dunworthy rescheduling drops and consulting with a time travel scientist who sees a pattern in the escalating slippage.

For those who like classic literature, consider The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.  The Pevensie children are sent to the countryside to live with a stranger, the practice at the time, when they encounter the wardrobe that sends them to Narnia.  There, also, is a war, and good has been dormant until the heroes come along.  Who would think four young children could make such a difference?  Aslan, that's who — one of my favorite characters of literature.  I gobbled up the entire series, holed up in my bedroom one glorious week.

David wasn't as lucky as the Pevensie children in the modern tale, The Book of Lost Things.  He wound up in the country during WWII, but it was with his father, his new sibling and his new stepmother.  He heard books "talking" to him, and through them he discovered a breach between his world and a fantastical world.  He took the leap and discovered that tales must originate from somewhere — and sometimes, that "somewhere" is as much nightmare as dream.

John Connolly mixes tragedy and humor, fairy tales and reality, a child's worst nightmares and his greatest dreams in this book that is not for the faint of heart.  In the end, we discover that things don't change all that much: children always want to be loved, and the gray area between adulthood and childhood should be trod with care.

What books have you read regarding war that have made an impression on you, and why?

2 comments:

  1. I love, love, love Atonement. An all time fave. No book throwing here! I'm also a fan of the movie.

    Also, from our club, I'd like to add the The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Suite Française. Both great reads, I think.

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  2. Thank you for reminding me about these books. Wow, I can't believe I forgot Guernsey — I loved it!

    Suite Française is in my queue for December. (I needed an armistice before launching into it.)

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