Literature and War Readalong 2012

People have been announcing their challenges and events for 2012 for a while now so it was about time to let you see the list for next year’s Literature and War Readalong.

It was not easy to compile this list as the books needed to fulfill different criteria one of which was length. I didn’t want to include too many books over 300 pages. The only novel over 500 pages will make up for its length by being very readable.

The other criterion was the country. Like last year, I wanted to include books from as many different countries as possible. I know it looks as if there were more British books than anything else which is true, still I managed to include books from 8 different countries.

I will also join Anna and Serena for the War Through the Generations Challenge that is dedicated to WWI this year. My introductory post is due later this week. The first three novels in the readalong will also count for their challenge.

I have been asked whether it is possible to join but read something different. Since strictly speaking a readalong implies that people read and discuss the same book, it’s difficult but as I’m starting a Literature and War Project I thought of a good solution that will serve anyone who wants to join –  myself as well as I may be in the mood to read more than one novel focusing on war. The idea would be that anyone can join during the last week of the month and either participate in the readalong or review any other war themed book that will then be added to the project page. The objective of the page is to cover many different countries, wars, themes and even genres. For the War Through the Generations Challenge I will for example read a children’s book and maybe a crime novel set in the trenches. Next year I would also like to read a Sci-Fi novel like Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War that has been suggested by Max from Pechorin’s Journal. And finally I would like to read more non-fiction.

This year’s readalong will not always take place on Fridays but alternate between Monday and Friday depending on whether the Friday is during the last week of the month or not.

January, Monday  30

Helen Dunmore Zennor in Darkness , 320 p., England (1993), WWI

Spring, 1917 and war haunts the Cornish coastal village of Zennor: ships are being sunk by U-boats, strangers are treated with suspicion, and newspapers are full of spy-fever. Into this turmoil come DH Lawrence and his German wife Frieda, hoping to escape the war-fever that grips London. They befriend Clare Coyne, a young artist, struggling to console her beloved cousin John William who is on leave from the trenches and suffering from shell shock. Yet the dark tide of gossip and innuendo means that Zennor is neither a place of recovery nor of escape …

February, Monday 27

Sebastian Barry: A Long Long Way , 295 p.,  Ireland (2005), WWI

I discovered the book thanks to a comment from Danielle (A Work in Progress)

One of the most vivid and realised characters of recent fiction, Willie Dunne is the innocent hero of Sebastian Barry’s highly acclaimed novel. Leaving Dublin to fight for the Allied cause as a member of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, he finds himself caught between the war playing out on foreign fields and that festering at home, waiting to erupt with the Easter Rising. Profoundly moving, intimate and epic, A Long Long Waycharts and evokes a terrible coming of age, one too often written out of history.

March, Friday 30

Jean Giono:  Le grand troupeauTo the Slaughterhouse 224 p., France (1931), WWI

Conscription reaches into the hills as the First World War come to a small Provençal community one blazing August. Giono’s fiercly realistic novel contrasts the wholesale destruction of men, land and animals at the front with the moral disintegration of the lonely and anxious people left behind. Yet not all is despair. The novel ends with a message  of hope.

April, Monday 30

Helen Humphreys: Coventry,172 p., England (2008), WWII

Another book discovered thanks to Danielle (here)

On the night of the most devastating German raid on Coventry, two women traverse the city and transform their hearts. Harriet, widowed during WWI, is “”firewatching”” on the cathedral roof when first the factories and then the church itself are set ablaze. In the ensuing chaos she helps a young man, who reminds her of the husband she has lost, find his way back home where he left his mother.

May, Monday 28th

Nigel Balchin: Darkness Falls From The Air, 208 p., England (1942), WWII

I owe the discovery of Balchin to Guy (His Futile Preoccupations) who reviewed two of his books here and  here.

With ostentatious lack of concern, Bill Sarratt, his wife and her lover spend the war wining and dining expensively, occasionally sauntering out into the Blitz with cheerful remarks about the shattered night-life of London’s West End. But beneath the false insouciance lies the real strain of a war that has firmly wrapped them all in its embrace. Wit may crackle at the same pace as buildings burn, but personal tragedy lurks appallingly close at hand.

June, Friday 29

Len Deighton:  Bomber, 532 p., England (1970), WWII

This book is a suggestion from Kevin (The War Movie Buff). It is by far the longest on the list but it should be a very quick read.

The classic novel of the Second World War that relates in devastating detail the 24-hour story of an allied bombing raid.

Bomber is a novel war. There are no victors, no vanquished. There are simply those who remain alive, and those who die.Bomber follows the progress of an Allied air raid through a period of twenty-four hours in the summer of 1943. It portrays all the participants in a terrifying drama, both in the air and on the ground, in Britain and in Germany.In its documentary style, it is unique. In its emotional power it is overwhelming.Len Deighton has been equally acclaimed as a novelist and as an historian. In Bomber he has combined both talents to produce a masterpiece.

July, Monday 30

Masuji Ibuse: Black Rain – Kuroi Ame, 304 p., Japan (1969), WWII

I saw the book mentioned on Rise’s blog (in lieu of a field guide) where is was mentioned by Gary (The Parrish Lantern)

Black Rain is centered around the story of a young woman who was caught in the radioactive “black rain” that fell after the bombing of Hiroshima. lbuse bases his tale on real-life diaries and interviews with victims of the holocaust; the result is a book that is free from sentimentality yet manages to reveal the magnitude of the human suffering caused by the atom bomb. The life of Yasuko, on whom the black rain fell, is changed forever by periodic bouts of radiation sickness and the suspicion that her future children, too, may be affected.

lbuse tempers the horror of his subject with the gentle humor for which he is famous. His sensitivity to the complex web of emotions in a traditional community torn asunder by this historical event has made Black Rain one of the most acclaimed treatments of the Hiroshima story.

August, Friday 31

Aaron Applefeld: The Story of a Life – Sippur chajim, 208 p., Israel (1999), WWII

Aharon Appelfeld was the child of middle-class Jewish parents living in Romania at the outbreak of World War II. He witnessed the murder of his mother, lost his father, endured the ghetto and a two-month forced march to a camp, before he escaped. Living off the land in the forests of Ukraine for two years before making the long journey south to Italy and eventually Israel and freedom, Appelfeld finally found a home in which he could make a life for himself. Acclaimed writer Appelfeld’s extraordinary and painful memoir of his childhood and youth is a compelling account of a boy coming of age in a hostile world.

September, Friday 28

Richard Bausch: Peace, 171 p., US (2008), WWII

This was a suggestion from Sandra Rouse in a comment on one of this year’s readalong posts. 

It’s Italy, near Cassino. The terrible winter of 1944. A dismal icy rain falls, unabated, for days. Three American soldiers set out on the gruelling ascent of a perilous Italian mountainside in the murky closing days of the Second World War. Haunted by their sergeant’s cold-blooded murder of a young girl, and with only an old man of uncertain loyalties as their guide, they truge on in a state of barely suppressed terror and confusion. With snipers lying in wait for them, the men are confronted by agonizing moral choices…Taut and propulsive – Peace is a feat of economy, compression, and imagination, a tough and unmistakably contemporary meditation on the corrosiveness of violence, the human cost of war, and the redemptive power of mercy.

October, Monday 29

Maria Angels Anglada The Auschwitz Violin – El violí d’Auschwitz, 128 p., Spain (1994), WWII

In the winter of 1991, at a concert in Krakow, an older woman with a marvelously pitched violin meets a fellow musician who is instantly captivated by her instrument. When he asks her how she obtained it, she reveals the remarkable story behind its origin.

Written with lyrical simplicity and haunting beauty—and interspersed with chilling, actual Nazi documentation—The Auschwitz Violin is more than just a novel: It is a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the power of beauty, art, and hope to triumph over the darkest adversity.

November, Friday 30

Gert Ledig The Stalin Front  –  Die Stalinorgel , 198 p., Germany (1955), WWII

1942, at the Eastern Front. Soldiers crouch in horrible holes in the ground, mingling with corpses. Tunneled beneath a radio mast, German soldiers await the order to blow themselves up. Russian tanks, struggling to break through enemy lines, bog down in a swamp, while a German runner, bearing messages from headquarters to the front, scrambles desperately from shelter to shelter as he tries to avoid getting caught in the action. Through it all, Russian artillery—the crude but devastatingly effective multiple rocket launcher known to the Germans as the Stalin Organ and to the Russians as Katyusha—rains death upon the struggling troops.

December, Friday 28

Michael Herr: Dispatches, 262 p., US (1977) Vietnam

This novel has been suggested by at least three people. Kevin (The War Movie Buff) and Max (Pechorin’s Journal)

If you’ve seen the movies Apocalypse Now and Platoon, in whose scripts Michael Herr had a hand, you have a pretty good idea of Herr’s take on Vietnam: a hallucinatory mess, the confluence of John Wayne and LSD.Dispatches reports remarkable front-line encounters with an acid-dazed infantryman who can’t wait to get back into the field and add Viet Cong kills to his long list (“I just can’t hack it back in the World”, he says); with a helicopter door gunner who fires indiscriminately into crowds of civilians; with daredevil photojournalist Sean Flynn, son of Errol, who disappeared somewhere inside Cambodia. Although Herr has admitted that parts of his book are fictional, this is meaty, essential reading for anyone who wants to understand Vietnam.

I hope that many of you will feel tempted by the one or the other title on the list and am looking forward to great discussions. The books are all very different in tone, style and themes. As always there are a some I can hardly wait to read.


How does the readalong work?

This is just a quick info for those who are new to blogging and /or the readalong.

I will review the book on a set date during the last week of the month. If you choose to read along you can either participate in the discussion in the comments page or post a review on your blog. I will add all the links to the reviews at the bottom of my posts.

The books are usually announced with some additional information or a short introduction at the beginning of the month.


This post will be copied into the Literature and War Redalong 2012 page so you can find it again at any time.

54 thoughts on “Literature and War Readalong 2012

  1. I’ve been watching for your list! 🙂 It looks good–I have a few already on my own reading pile and a number are totally new to me, which is always fun–to discover new authors. I like the variety, too. I missed a few of the books this year, and I’m not sure now if I will manage to finish Cold Mountain in time (the month is really flying by), but I do hope to read everything on the list for next year! Now I’m off to find a copy of the Dunmore. Thanks for doing this again–I’ve enjoyed all the books I read this past year!

    • Thanks, Danielle, I’m glad you will be joing me again. Don’t worry about Cold Mountain. December is flying by. Have you seen the movie? Maybe you could watch it instead.
      The list under went so many changes… Until this morning there was still something that i didn’t like but then all of a sudden I found the last book and they seemed to workd well together.

  2. All these books are new to me. I’ll be too busy in January to read Helen Dunmore but it sounds good.
    I’m interested in Giono and Balchin. I’ll decide at the last minute. Sorry I can’t promise more by now.

    • Emma, that’s fine. I’m very interested in the Giono. I haven’t read anything snce Le hussard sur le toit but I do like him a lot.
      And of course the Blachin after everything Guy wrote.
      Coventry should be very good as well and they go as a pair. I hope Tony will join for Coventry. It’s his hometown.

  3. I’m not sure I’ll be reading a lot of these, but I’ve been wanting to try ‘Black Rain’ for a while…

    …and, of course, how could I resist ‘Coventry’? 😉

  4. Ready to go. Skeptical about some of them, but I will read them all if I can get them from the library. Can’t wait for Bomber, The Stalin Front, and Dispatches (again). Intrigued by Long Way, Slaughterhouse, and Peace. Looking forward to reading books I would never consider reading.

    • That’s the six I would have said that will appeal to you the most.
      The others are said to be very well written, so you should like the one or the other too.
      I started rading Bomber and thought it doesn’t matter that it’s on the longer side as it seems very readable. Thanks for the recommendation.

        • That’s true. I had a few very short books on the list but I kicked those out. Two can be read for the War Through the Generations Challenge and the third is one I’ll read soon as well (Julie Otsuka).

  5. Your list has a number of interesting titles on it, but I have to admit that I’m a bit deterred by the sight of so many WWII novels. Was the focus originally meant to be on WWII novels, or did it end up this way simply because of the proliferation of WWII novels in the literary market? Were there many other war novels you considered?

    • This year’s list was a bit more even, I agree, there were only 4 WWII books. Initially I had meant to add other, lesser known wars, Algeria, Nigeria but the length of the books was an issue. While Bomber is long, it’s very acessible while some of the African novels I had in mind are hard to get into. I have far less WWI novels on the list as I will read some in parallel with the War Through the Generations.
      More about Vietnam would have been interesting but they are very long.
      I also took the suggestions from people into consideration and, you may be surprised, with the exception of one or two books, everyone did suggest WWII.

  6. Yippie I finally know what books you will be reading. And I knew you would choose good ones. I am really interested in the ones on World War II: Coventry, Darkness Falls from the Air, and Bomber. All of them look great. I won’t be able to join until sometime in March since I’ve committed myself to a couple of events. This is exciting!

    • How nice that you will join. I’m also very interested in these three as they look at something similar from differet angles but the books and the style should be very different. Humphreys is a poet, Deighton a historian.

  7. A really varied selection, Caroline. I’ve read Deighton, Bausch, Appelfeld and Herr so I’ll be interested to see what people make of them.

    Ibuse, Ledig and Giono all sound interesting. Balchin of course I am aware of via Guy – I might join in for that one.

    • Thanks, Leroy, I was aiming for varied, still it took a while to compile a list that felt right and rounded. I’ll be glad to have you join us for any you choose. Hopefully you can join also in the discussions of those you’ve read.

  8. Beautiful post, Caroline! Love the suggested list for the readalong! I haven’t heard of most of the authors except for Sebastian Barry and Len Deighton. I love the description of ‘Peace’ and ‘The Auschwitz Violin’ – both of them look quite haunting. I also can’t resist a book which has a music background 🙂 I hope to join in the readalong for some of the books. Happy Reading!

  9. Thanks, Vishy, I’m glad you like the list.
    The Auschwitz Violin just came out in English, it’s translated from the Catalan. I saw it in a book shop and had to get it immediately.
    Richard Bausch is said to be a very accomplished writer. I haven’t read him so far but wanted to try one of his novels any way.
    It would be wonderful if you could join for the one or the other book.
    I had never heard of Deighton before Kevin mentioned him but it seems very well written.

    • ‘The Auschwitz Violin’ was originally written in Catalan? Wow! That is really interesting! The title and the theme sound very German to me (and so un-Spanish :)) Well, that is one more blow to one’s pre-conceptions about literature 🙂 I really want to read this book now!

      • Yes, it was written in Catalan and it took almost 20 years to be translated. I tried to get it in Catalan but could only find Spanish translations. Most Catalan books I’ve read or have here are all set in Barcelona. I think it is a very good book. Quite short though.

  10. What a wonderful resource this post is – a very interesting list of books which I shall return to. I tend to read a few books about wartime anyway, and am currently in the middle of a monster tome – Max Hastings new history of WW2 which I am reading among my usual fiction. I

    • Thanks, Tom. I think the list has a few titles that should be very good. I’ve seen the one or the other review of WWII non-fiction on your blog and even bought one of the books. I think Berlin Durinng the War was the title. I still didn’t get to it. I hope you will review the book by Hasting. This and last year has seen a multitude of interesting titles on lesser known aspects. Quite fascinating.

  11. I’ll try and join you for at least a couple of these, Caroline, but if you’re interested in predicting which ones I’ll give you a couple of guesses before I tell you the likely candidates! By the way, I read Dispatches multiple times back when I was in high school and college and it just blew me away. I haven’t read it in ages, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out to be the best book of all on your list–too bad we have to wait a full year for a discussion of it. 😦

    • I’m very glad, you will join. I have to guess now, do I? The discussion on The Things They Carried was very good, so I’m sure Dispatches will be as well. Maybe it’s a bit pedantic but I wanted to read them in chronological order of the wars.
      You might be interested in The Auschwitz Violin if you haven’t read it yet, Giono, I suppose, maybe Ibuse and Applefeld?

      • Great guesses, Caroline! I think Giono, Ibuse, and Ledig are the three that most grab my attention now (aside from the Herr, which I would like to reread), but the other two you mentioned are also possibilities (the one for the Catalan connection, the other just because). I don’t want to promise too much because of my poor track record this year, but I’m glad you’re hosting this event again. Cheers!

        • I thought of The Auschwitz Violin purely because of the Catalan. And the Applefeld because he sayid to be an incredibly accomplished writer. I would have thought Ledig but for some reason I thought that, like Rise, you have read it already. Please don’t worry if you don’t make it in the end. I don’t want people to force anything. The topic isn’t fun but reading and the discussions should be.

  12. I was wondering would it be disrespectful to consider reading World War Z because it is a fictional war. I’ve never read it, but my friend always talks about it and how it reads as if it really did happen. I was just wondering because you mentioned covering different wars and genres, but I don’t want to be disrespectful to the real veterans in real wars…

    • I’ve been thinking along these lines before, wondering whether it was disrespectful because some real people did suffer through some real wars. I’ve seen war movies based on invented wars and some were problematic, others were not because. It depends on the book. I don’t know World War Z. But why not. It would be interesting to se what the message is.
      I would be interested in your review.

  13. Pingback: War Through the Generations 2012 Reading Challenge – The Great War « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

  14. I love how thin most of the books you have chosen. As you know, the easiest to find is the Japanese one but I will try to find more books last year. Maybe I can find it in internet. I want to read that Ireland one

    • Wonderful, it would be so nice to have you join. I think you will find the Ibuse easily. It’s proably the darkest novel, together with the book by Ledig.
      Sebastian Barry is said to be one of the finest Irish authors.
      I hope you can find some of the books.

  15. Pingback: Charles Frazier: Cold Mountain (1997) Literature and War Readalong December 2011 « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

  16. Thanks for the mention, another great book concerning this period is Shusaku Endo’s “The Sea and Poison”
    海と毒薬 (The Sea and Poison) (1957) Set largely in a Fukuoka hospital during World War II, this novel is concerned with medical experimentation carried out on downed American airmen. It is written with alternating points of view: the bulk of the story is written with a subjective, limited (but shifting) third-person view; three segments are told in first-person view. Inspired by true events,. here’s my post on it.

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