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Books on Wars

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It is November 11th, known here in the U.S. as Veteran’s Day, formerly Armistice Day to remember the end of WWI but expanded to honor all veterans who have fought for their country, so …

Do you read war stories? Fictional ones? Histories?

Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, the subject of war is unnerving. I don’t seek out this subject matter out of volition. That the world spent over half of the 20th century in warfare makes it inevitable topic in contemporary literature. I am usually dragged into reading about war against my will. The one that I read with fore-knowledge of war is Gone with the Wind. The Light in August and April Morning turned out to be enjoyable read with war background. Eileen Chang set her stories in Sino-Japanese War. Irene Nemirasky wrote about the Second World War. Holocaust and Nanjing Massacre almost never fail to seep through Jweish and Chinese literature, respectively, on a microscale, for instance, with stories focusing on an individual or a social group. The Boy in Blue Pajamas, The Rape of Nanking and Love in a Fallen City are such books. I bet at least one (or more than one) book out of 4 or 5 randomly pulled off the shelves in the store would reverberate or trickle back to a war, if not about war. The traces of war will never be expunged. Even a novel with the most intimate-looking cover somehow would peel its layers and find the way to some family secret during war. Sisters swap their babies and soldiers appropriate another’s identity. Like in Shadow Without A Name, one of my all-time favorite novels.


12 Responses

  1. I fully admit I love war books. Not sure why.

  2. two of my all-time favourites: all quiet on the western front and for whom the bell tolls…

  3. Night Over Day Over Night by Paul Watkins is a very affecting novel about a young German soldier in WWII.
    The author captures the sense of futility and confusion felt by the main character.

    Sebastian Barry’s WWI novel, A Long Long Way, is one of the most beautifully written stories about war I have ever read (of course I feel that way about anything Barry writes).

    And, of course, there’s the Regeneration trilogy by Pat Barker, which, though it takes place far from the front, says more about war and its effects on soldiers than any other work.

    I guess the books I read about war have less to say about the “glory” of war and more about the way war touches a few people, sometimes those at home or soldiers trying to recover from its effects.

  4. A Farewell to Arms surprised me with its perspective on WWI in Italy; the story was compelling, and started me on a journey through Hemingway’s backlist.

    • Empire of the Sun by J. G. Ballard gives you the story of WWII through the eyes of an English boy in China.

      Fly Away Peter — novella by David Malouf — this is a lovely book about a relationship, but the specter of war WWI — not only the characters’ awareness of it and fear of what it will do to them, but the readers’ own knowledge of the particular horrors of that war — shades the entire story . . . this book gets overlooked, but it shouldn’t. Malouf is masterful here.

    • I love Farewell to Arms! I listed For Whom the Bell Tolls on my post for this question. Hemingway was a journalist, not a soldier, and I think he offers a very unique perspective on the 20th century through that. :O)

    • A Farewell to Arms is the only novel by Hemingway I have enjoyed reading.

  5. I think that war, itself and in art, is an exploration of human nature and deeper conflict. That said, I think I’ve come to that conclusion as a reason why war IS in everything not an excuse to why it HAS to be in everything. I think human conflict is unavoidable but, perhaps, death-wars may some day be avoided…at least they might be if we write enough books about the subject. ;O)

    • I agree. If life is the source of literature and literature reflects the different nuances of life, war would bring out the human resilience to loss and pain. War also shows the cruelty of human nature, the proclivity to conquer and to destroy.

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