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