Literature and War Readalong December 29 2014: Letters From a Lost Generation by Vera Brittain and Four Friends

Letters From a Lost Generation

Letters from a Lost Generation is the book I’ve been looking forward to all year. I love reading letters and this collection has been on my radar for a long time. Vera Brittain was a nurse during WWI.

The letters have been written between her, her fiancé, her younger brother, and two of their best friends. All four men died in the war. I don’t know how she survived such loss. Vera Brittain later wrote her memoirs Testament of Youth, based on her wartime experience.

And some details and the blurb for those who want to join

Letters from a Lost Generation by Vera Brittain and Four Friends (UK) WWI, Letters, 448 pages

Nothing in the papers, not the most vivid and heart-rending descriptions, have made me realise war like your letters’ Vera Brittain to Roland Leighton, 17 April 1915.

This selection of letters, written between 1913 & 1918, between Vera Brittain and four young men – her fiance Roland Leighton, her brother Edward and their close friends Victor Richardson & Geoffrey Thurlow present a remarkable and profoundly moving portrait of five young people caught up in the cataclysm of total war.

Roland, ‘Monseigneur’, is the ‘leader’ & his letters most clearly trace the path leading from idealism to disillusionment. Edward, ‘ Immaculate of the Trenches’, was orderly & controlled, down even to his attire. Geoffrey, the ‘non-militarist at heart’ had not rushed to enlist but put aside his objections to the war for patriotism’s sake. Victor on the other hand, possessed a very sweet character and was known as ‘Father Confessor’. An important historical testimony telling a powerful story of idealism, disillusionment and personal tragedy.

 

*******

The discussion starts on Monday, 29 December 2014.

Further information on the Literature and War Readalong 2014, including all the book blurbs, can be found here.

Michael Morpurgo: Private Peaceful (2003) Literature and War Readalong May 2014

Private Peaceful

British author Michael Morpurgo is one of the most appreciated writers for Children. He was the UK Children’s Laureate from 2003 to 2005 and Writer in Residence at the Savoy Hotel in 2007. He won many prizes for his fiction.

Tommo Peaceful is the narrator of Private Peaceful. He begins his story at five past ten in the evening, after everyone else has left him. He awaits the next day with anxiety but he doesn’t want any company or distraction. He wants to spend the night thinking about his life. The chapters are all given a specific time and each intro to the chapter describes briefly Tommo’s surroundings and his state of mind. After the intro Tommo tells us in flashbacks his story, from the idyllic childhood in the English countryside to the trenches of WWI.

Tommo is one of three boys. At the age of nine his father dies in an accident and Tommo feels responsible for his death. Although he and his older brother Charlie are very close, he never mentions what happened in the woods, the day their father dies. They have an older brother Big Joe who had Meningitis as a child. He can’t go to school and is easily agitated but they are still very fond of him.

Their father’s death marks a transition from a carefree life to a life of some hardship. They are at the mercy of the Colonel in whose cottage they live. The cottage is tied to a function and after the death of the father, who was the forester, they would have to leave. The Colonel’s estate is big and many people and families work for him and so Tommo’s mother is offered a position at the big house, and they can stay in the cottage.

The years go by and there is happiness and heartache in equal measures. When WWI breaks out, they don’t think they are affected. Tommo is only 16 and Charlie, who is two years older, doesn’t think of volunteering but in the end they are forced. Although Tommo is too young, he doesn’t want to abandon Charlie and pretends he’s older. Finally they are shipped to France together. From there they move on to Belgium and stay near Ypres for the following months.

They don’t see any action at first but eventually they come under heavy fire. From then on we get an impression of everything that was typical or important during WWI: trench warfare, mustard gas, rats, rain, mud, high numbers of casualties among men and horses, arbitrariness of orders, sadism of the high command, absurdity of it all . . . While it’s usually key to show but not tell, Morpurgo often tells but doesn’t show. He stays away from graphic descriptions or anything that you could call gruesome. We still get the horror because we see how it affects Tommo. Most of the time, we just don’t get to see what he sees. I think that’s a great way to go in a Children’s book.

What works particularly well in the book is the contrast between the childhood and teenage years and the war scenes. Morpurgo takes a lot of time to introduce us to his characters and to make us care for them. While some of the secondary characters are a bit stereotypical, the main characters Charlie and Tommo are well-developed. Their relationship is very close and they would give everything for each other.

As I wrote in the introduction to this month, I was particularly interested to see how a Children’s author would handle a WWI book from the point of view of a soldier. I think Michael Morpurgo did an admirable job. I’m sure, children will get a good impression for the particularities of WWI. And they will care for the characters and feel deeply about the end. For an adult reader who has read some very similar books for adults – Strange Meeting and How Many Miles to Babylon come to mind – it was not exactly a huge revelation, but in spite of that, I found the twist at the end harrowing.

Other reviews

Danielle (A Work in Progress)

 Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

*******

Private Peaceful is the fifth book in the Literature and War Readalong 2014. The next book is the WWI novel Fear – La Peur by Gabriel Chevallier. Discussion starts on Friday 27 June, 2014. Further information on the Literature and War Readalong 2014, including the book blurbs can be found here.

Literature and War Readalong May 30 2014: Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo

Private Peaceful

Michael Morpurgo is a famous British Children’s author. Some of you may know him from the Spielberg movie War Horse, which was based on one of his novels. I’ve had Private Peaceful on my piles for a while and I’m really keen on reading it finally. I’ve always wondered how you write about war for children. Especially from the point of view of a soldier. We’ve read the Dutch novel Winter in Wartime last year, but that was set among civilians. So I’m curious to find out how explicit the book will be and where Morpurgo draws the line.

I’m glad that CarolineD made me aware that Private Peaceful and My Dear I Wanted to Tell You (our choice for September) have been chosen by CityRead London 2014. CItyRead London is a project to promote reading across the UK capital.

Here are the first sentences

They’ve gone now, and I’m alone at last. I have the whole night ahead of me, and I won’t waste a single moment of it. I shan’t sleep it away. I won’t dream it away either. I mustn’t, because every moment of it will be far too precious.

And some details and the blurb for those who want to join

Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo (UK 2003)  WWI, Children’s Book, 192 pages

Heroism or cowardice? A stunning story of the First World War from a master storyteller.

Told in the voice of a young soldier, the story follows 24 hours in his life at the front during WW1, and captures his memories as he looks back over his life. Full of stunningly researched detail and engrossing atmosphere, the book leads to a dramatic and moving conclusion.

Both a love story and a deeply moving account of the horrors of the First World War, this book will reach everyone from 9 to 90.

 

*******

The discussion starts on Friday, 30 May 2014.

Further information on the Literature and War Readalong 2014, including all the book blurbs, can be found here.

War Through the Generations 2012 Reading Challenge – The Great War

This is the fourth year in a row that Anna and Serena host the War Through the Generations Challenge. Since this year is dedicated to WWI I chose to join them. I have quite a few books on my piles that I would like to read. I’m not sure how many I will read but I aim for 5.

Here are the rules

Books can take place before, during, or after the war, so long as the conflicts that led to the war or the war itself are important to the story. Books from other challenges count so long as they meet the above criteria.

Dip: Read 1-3 books in any genre with WWI as a primary or secondary theme.

Wade: Read 4-10 books in any genre with WWI as a primary or secondary theme.

Swim: Read 11 or more books in any genre with WWI as a primary or secondary theme.

5 books means I sign up for Wade. I may or may not read more but I’m pretty sure I’ll stay on this level.

Three of the books chosen are the first three titles of my Literature and War Readalong 2012. If you want to read along, please see the page for details.

Zennor In Darkness by Helen Dunmore

A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry

To the Slaughterhouse by Jean Giono

The other books that I will read for the challenge only are

Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo. It’s a children’s book and I’m very interested to see how someone writes about war for children.

Fly Away Peter by David Malouf. This is a suggestion from Kevin (The War Movie Buff). It’s a very short novel by an Australian author which seems interesting. I’ve watched a lot of Australian WWI movies, it’s about time to read an Australian WWI book.

Here are a few additional suggestions as my favourite war novels are all WWI novels:

Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Fornt. Probably the most famous one.

Pat Barker’s Regeneration TrilogyRegeneration –  The Eye in the DoorThe Ghost Road.

Jane Urquhart’s The Stone Carvers

Sebastian Faulk’s Birdsong 

Jennifer Johnston’s How Many Miles to Babylon? (here is my review).

If you would like to sign up, more details on the challenge can be found here.