Alexander Baron: There’s No Home (1950) Literature and War Readalong September 2013

There Is No Time

Alexander Baron was once known as the great British novelist of WWII, but since then he’s been somewhat forgotten. Three of his novels are “war novels”.  There’s No Home is one of them. For a novel about WWII it’s surprisingly peaceful and deals with a lesser known aspect of the war. When the allies invaded Sicily, and drove back the Germans to the Italian mainland, some of the troops were granted a few months of peace and quiet during which they lived among the Sicilian civilians.

There are different POV characters in the novel, but the main story focuses on Sgt Craddock. He’s the type of soldier liked by everyone, superiors and inferiors alike. He’s married with a little kid. Being away from home, first in combat and now in this eerie state of peace among the Sicilian civilians makes home seem like another world, a world far more foreign than Sicily. When he meets Graziella, falls in love with her and lives with her, almost as if they were husband and wife, only with far more openness and directness than he’s ever known with his wife, his own life in England moves farther and farther away.

The love story between Craddock and Graziella, is the only coherent story line, the rest is made of anecdotal episodes, either about civilian life or things that happen among the soldiers during the time in Sicily. The war and the fighting are far away, but eventually, they have to move on, go back to fighting and leave everything that has become dear to them.

It’s easy to see that Baron wrote from his own experience. Only someone who spent time in Italy, among Italians would be able to capture so many details, render such lifelike scenes. In the afterword we read that Baron was “adopted” by an Italian family while in Sicily, visited them often, ate with them. Most soldiers, not only those who had an Italian lover, formed close relationships with the population.

The book describes some of the absurdity of war, but it’s toned down. During this time of rest, the absurdity is felt the most in the treatment of deserters. It’s no coincidence that we have three deserters in this novel. A British, soldier, an Italian and a German one. Their treatment is very different.

I liked the way this book was written a great deal. It’s written in such a precise but effortless style, you barely notice you are reading, it felt much more like watching a movie. I appreciated that Baron chose a topic that may seem marginal to the war but that was interesting and rendered with great warmth. I suppose you could read his three war books like a trilogy, each showing another aspect of what Baron experienced during the war. After having read this novel on civilians and soldiers in repose, I’d like to read one of his other novels, From the City From the Plough, telling the story from the POV of an infantryman in combat.

Other reviews

You can find some quotes from the book on Danielle’s blog

Danielle (A Work in Progress)

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There’s No Home was the ninth book in the Literature and War Readalong 2013. The next is the post-war novel Everything Flows  by Russian writer Vasily Grossman. Discussion starts on Monday 28 October, 2013. Further information on the Literature and War Readalong, including the book blurbs can be found here.

29 thoughts on “Alexander Baron: There’s No Home (1950) Literature and War Readalong September 2013

  1. A great review as always, Caroline. This really sounds like a book I would enjoy. I’m fascinated by the “quiet” side of war — the people on the periphery who were deeply affected by the fighting, but not directly involved in combat.
    PS – I think your kitty in the photo header is so cute! 🙂

  2. As you point out the entire deserter angle is very interesting. I recently read something indicating that they we an enormous number of deserters among the allies alone in World War II. Their story is something that we rarely hear about.

    • The story of the deserteres shows the absurditiy of war so well.
      In WWI they also shot people for cowardice which isn’t entirely the same but just as tragic, even more so.

  3. It’s interesting how writers who lived through the war often write about experiences which to us can seem tangential. If you lived then though, what was tangential? War was this vast beast which brushed across people’s lives, changing them as it did so.

    Barron’s definitely on my list to check out. He’s pretty much forgotten as you say, but this isn’t the first time I’ve heard that he’s unjustly forgotten.

    Nice review as ever.

    • I certainly think he’s unjustly forgotten, just like Nigel Balchin but I’d say Baron is more accessible even. I’m looking forward to read your thoughts on him.
      I guess it’s another one you got.
      I suppoe we think as everything which isn’t as vilent like battle or bombardement as more tangential but living in it would have affected us just as much.

  4. What’s a POV?

    I like reading this review, not sure about the book itself (I haven’t read any book in weeks 😦 ) . Is this basically a live story set in war time?

  5. Wonderful review, Caroline! I haven’t heard of Alexander Baron before. It is sad that he is nearly forgotten today. I like the theme of the book very much – the quiet time during the war. For some reason this book makes me think of Joseph Heller’s ‘Catch-22’. Thanks for this wonderful review. I will keep an eye for Baron’s books.

    • Thanks, Vishy, He0s well worth discovering but I’m not sure he has a lot in common with Heller’s book which I have still not read. I thought Catch 22 had a lot of gruesome details.

  6. I almost asked what POV was as well, but I guessed, eventually. (getting better at this thanks to Guy)

    I’m really tempted by this novel, even if it’s about WWII and I’m a bit tired of that. I’m attracted to the setting, it’s apart of the war we rarely hear of.

    PS: Just a question. As a French, I suppose I have to ask. When the was was over what happened to the women who went with foreign soldiers ?

  7. I very much liked this as well–am almost more intrigued by Baron’s own personal life after reading the afterword in the book–most excellently written. I want to find his memoirs–it seems as though he did write something. Great choice with a different perspective and this goes high on the lists of favorites so far!

    • I thought the afterword was very interesting and a memoir would be something to look into. The picture of that woman does certainly intrigue. 🙂
      The next one will be even more different in terms of perspective as it’s post-war. I thought we needed a bit of variety.

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