Thursday 26 September 2013

Australians At War

I've just completed a run of novels about Australians and WWII.

Generally I love a good war long as it doesn't focus too much on the actual, you know, war part!

The war stories I prefer tend to focus on the relationships between people at war, the effects of the fighting, the bombing, the hardships.
I want to know how individuals and countries coped with the grief, loss, deprivation & fear of war. I'm fascinated by courage and bravery and loyalty.

In reading about how others survived the chaos & horror of war, I wonder how I would cope in a similar situation. I'm curious about the choices people make to survive and the fine line between heroism and cowardice.
I want to read about the internal conflicts as much, if not more so, than the actual battles.

I want to explore the moral dilemma's.
I want to make sense of man's inhumanity to man.

I read war books to come to grips with these periods in history in the hope our knowledge can prevent future world wars and holocausts.

So far we don't seem to be winning this battle...and perhaps I expect too much from literature! But I feel compelled to keep on trying to make sense of war & hate & intolerance.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan is a

"novel of the cruelty of war, and tenuousness of life and the impossibility of love. This savagely beautiful novel is a story about the many forms of love and death, of war and truth, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost." (according to the Random House blurb)!

Which sounds like it should be my kind of book, but I simply couldn't engage with it or care about the main character Dorrigo Evans. It may have been 'savagely beautiful' but I just found myself completely alienated by Dorrigo.

I thoroughly enjoyed Flanagan's earlier novel The Sound of One Clapping (which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin in 1998), but I've been unable to get into any of Flanagan's books since.

Steven Carroll's A World of Other People is very loosely based on a T.S. Eliot poem and even features Eliot as one of the characters. He, along with Iris, are fire watchers during the Blitz in London. One night they observe a flaming British plane crash land in a park. Their shared experience leads Eliot to write "Little Gidding" while Iris struggles with her own creative interpretation of the nights events.

A chance meeting with an Australian pilot grieving for the loss of his flight crew allows Iris to see that this was the pilot and the burning plane that she saw crash land. The three different viewpoints of the same event provide an interesting structure on which to hang a story.

I enjoy Carroll's writing style and some of his phrases were truly beautiful to read, but I struggled to feel a connection with Iris, the pilot or Eliot. I felt too removed from the action to care. Which is a pity, because I adored his other Eliot novel, The Lost Life.

I had high hopes for Keneally's Shame and the Captives too as it is based on the true story of the Cowra breakout. I finished my highschool years in Cowra and I am very familiar with this story and the local area.

My first disappointment was the introduction where Keneally explained that he had fictionalised everything, including the name of the town.
"Fiction has always tried to tell the truth by telling lies."

I was instantly alienated from this story.

Everytime, Keneally wrote Gawell, instead of Cowra, I saw red! I couldn't get past this feeling and in the end had to give up on the book entirely.

Which is a shame, because I enjoyed his last book which was set in Kempsey (& Egypt & Gallipoli). He was able to write fiction about real events in real places in The Daughters of Mars - why not this one?

Fortunately I have been rescued from this WWII slump by the latest Classics Club spin...

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