Since today is Veterans Day (or Remembrance/Armistice Day), I thought it might be interesting to take a look at some books about war. So I made a list!
1. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
“We are not youth any longer. We don’t want to take the world by storm. We are fleeing. We fly from ourselves. From our life. We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world, and we had to shoot it to pieces.”
…I don’t even know how to talk about this book, because I feel that nothing I say can possibly do it justice. But I’ll try: This is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. Probably in the top five such books, honestly? It’s quiet, and haunting, and contrasts the horrors of war with the small and fleeting pleasures of a young German soldier’s life during WWI.
The last chapter made me cry, and then I reread those last few pages just to make sure I’d correctly understood what just happened, and checked to see if any of the pages were missing because I couldn’t believe the story just ended like that, and then I cried some more because you don’t fully understand the significance of the title until the very last page of the novel.
Oh my god, talking about it makes me want to reread it… seriously, even if you think you don’t like classics, please try this one. It doesn’t read like something old and stodgy, if that’s what you’re worried about. For something published in 1928, it sounds surprisingly modern and clear – and, like I said, beautiful. (Also? I am in awe of the translator for doing SUCH a good job – this book wasn’t originally published in English, but I kept forgetting that while I read because the language just flowed so well.)
2. Going Solo by Roald Dahl
“I was already beginning to realize that the only way to conduct oneself in a situation where bombs rained down and bullets whizzed past, was to accept the dangers and all the consequences as calmly as possible. Fretting and sweating about it all was not going to help.”
I read Boy, Dahl’s first autobiography, years and years and years ago. Like, I was young enough that I don’t even remember exactly how old I was?! Six or seven, I think, but I’m not quite sure. ANYWAY. I always meant to read the sequel, Going Solo, but somehow I never got around to it until I was eighteen years old.
And honestly, I’m glad I waited that long, because the tone of this book is markedly different from that of Boy, and it’s about war and jobs and other stuff that probably would’ve bored me when I was little. Part of this book deals with Dahl’s work for Shell Oil, and the rest is about his experiences in the Royal Air Force.
OH MY GOD. He had several close brushes with death – like, extremely close. I am honestly amazed this man made it through WWII alive… when so many others did not. Reading this book really made me think hard about what the world would have been like – what the world would have lost – if he had died and not gone on to write all those wonderful books. (He is one of my greatest writing inspirations/influences.) Reading this book made me think about what we lost from the millions who died in WWII and the Holocaust – how could they have gone on to affect the world? What stories might they have told?
3. Born on the Fourth of July by Ron Kovic
“I want somebody to love me. I wanna to be free again. I wanna walk in the backyard on the grass. I wanna put my bare feet in the ocean. I wanna run along the sand and feel it on my feet. I wanna stand up in the shower with the hot water streaming down my legs, in the morning… I wanna explode, Dad.”
I’m going to be blunt: This book is not as masterfully written as the other two on this list. It’s a bit rough, from a technical point of view – no beautiful turns of phrase or anything like that. But that WORKS here. It feels immediate. Real.
Kovic served two tours of duty in Vietnam, and returned to the United States paralyzed from the chest down. And no one cared – he couldn’t get proper treatment in hospitals, and his friends and family didn’t know what to do with him.
I particularly loved the part where he started examining what drove him to join the military. He was, as you may have guessed, born on the Fourth of July, and bought into the whole idea of the “all-American boy” and the nationalistic propaganda that followed WWII.
So, there were a few things I noticed while writing this post, things I didn’t plan at all. Each of these books is about a different war – World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War. Each author is from a different country, as well – Germany, the UK, and the US, respectively. (Of course, these are all Western countries, so… yeah. I should find and read some accounts of war written from a non-Western perspective.)
Additionally, each of these authors served in the war they wrote about… something I didn’t even consider when I made this list, but I’m glad it ended up that way. Going Solo and Born on the Fourth of July are both autobiographies, and All Quiet on the Western Front is fiction, but nevertheless Remarque did fight for Germany during WWI.
Finally, I just now realized that I read all of these books last year. Hmmm. Again, that was unplanned.
What books about war have you read?