Literature and War Readalong 2013
It took a long time to compile the reading list for the Literature and War Readalong 2013 but I must say, I’m pleased with the result.
In 2013 we will be reading 12 books from 12 different countries, written in 8 different languages and covering 6 different wars.
I think it’s the most diverse list so far. I also tried to take different events into account which should allow people to pick a book for the readalong which will also count towards other events. There is an Irish author for March, a Dutch author for June, German for November, and a Canadian and an Australian choice for the respective challenges.
And here goes the final list
January, Monday 28
The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers (2012), 240 pages - US – Iraq war
LONGLISTED FOR THE GUARDIAN FIRST BOOK AWARD 2012 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER An unforgettable depiction of the psychological impact of war, by a young Iraq veteran and poet, THE YELLOW BIRDS is already being hailed as a modern classic. Everywhere John looks, he sees Murph. He flinches when cars drive past. His fingers clasp around the rifle he hasn’t held for months. Wide-eyed strangers praise him as a hero, but he can feel himself disappearing. Back home after a year in Iraq, memories swarm around him: bodies burning in the crisp morning air. Sunlight falling through branches; bullets kicking up dust; ripples on a pond wavering like plucked strings. The promise he made, to a young man’s mother, that her son would be brought home safely. With THE YELLOW BIRDS, poet and veteran Kevin Powers has composed an unforgettable account of friendship and loss. It vividly captures the desperation and brutality of war, and its terrible after-effects. But it is also a story of love, of great courage, and of extraordinary human survival. Written with profound emotional insight, especially into the effects of a hidden war on families at home, THE YELLOW BIRDS is one of the most haunting, true and powerful novels of our time. ‘THE YELLOW BIRDS is the All Quiet on the Western Front of America’s Arab Wars.’ (Tom Wolfe, author of The Bonfire of the Vanities ) ‘Kevin Powers has conjured a poetic and devastating account of war’s effect on the individual.’ (Damian Lewis, star of Homeland and Band of Brothers ) ‘Inexplicably beautiful’. (Ann Patchett, Orange Prize-winning author of Bel Canto and State of Wonder)
February, Thursday 28
The Flowers of War aka Jingling Shisan Chai by Geling Yan (2006), 256 pages, China – Chinese/Japanese war
December 1937. The Japanese have taken Nanking. A group of terrified schoolgirls hides in the compound of an American church. Among them is Shujuan, through whose thirteen-year-old eyes we witness the shocking events that follow. Run by Father Engelmann, an American priest who has been in China for many years, the church is supposedly neutral ground in the war between China and Japan. But it becomes clear the Japanese are not obeying international rules of engagement. As they pour through the streets of Nanking, raping and pillaging the civilian population, the girls are in increasing danger. And their safety is further compromised when prostitutes from the nearby brothel climb over the wall into the compound seeking refuge. Short, powerful, vivid, this beautiful novel transports the reader to 1930s China. Full of wonderful characters, from the austere priest to the irreverent prostitutes, it is a story about how war upsets all prejudices and how love can flourish amidst death.
March, Thursday 28
The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen (1949), 336 pages, Ireland – WWII
It is wartime London, and the carelessness of people with no future flows through the evening air. Stella discovers that her lover Robert is suspected of selling information to the enemy. Harrison, the British intelligence agent on his trail, wants to bargain, the price for his silence being Stella herself. Caught between two men and unsure who she can trust, the flimsy structures of Stella’s life begin to crumble.
April, Monday 29
The Wars by Timothy Findley (1977), 240 pages, Canada – WWI
Robert Ross, a sensitive nineteen-year-old Canadian officer, went to war – the War to End All Wars. He found himself in the nightmare world of trench warfare; of mud and smoke, of chlorine gas and rotting corpses. In this world gone mad, Robert Ross performed a last desperate act to declare his commitment to life in the midst of death.The Wars is quite simply one of the best novels ever written about the First World War.
May, Friday 31
All That I Am by Anna Funder (2011), 384 pages, Australia – WWII
Anna Funder, winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize and author of Stasiland, offers a thrilling tale and powerful love story that tells the heroic and tragic true story of the German resistance in World War II in All That I Am.
When Hitler comes to power in 1933, a tight-knit group of friends and lovers become hunted outlaws overnight. United in their resistance to the madness and tyranny of Nazism, they must flee the country. Dora, passionate and fearless, her lover, the great playwright Ernst Toller, her younger cousin Ruth and Ruth’s husband Hans find refuge in London. Here they take breath-taking risks in order to continue their work in secret. But England is not the safe-haven they think it to be, and a single, chilling act of betrayal will tear them apart…’The strengths of Funder’s writing are emotional and imaginative. In what she has to say about love, loss and betrayal there is profound truth’ The Times
June, Friday 28
Winter in Wartime akak Oorlogswinter by Jan Terlouw (1972), 220 pages, Netherlands – WWII
Near the end of World War II, 14-year-old Michiel becomes involved with the Resistance after coming to the aid of a wounded British soldier. With the conflict coming to an end, Michiel comes of age and learns of the stark difference between adventure fantasy and the ugly realities of war.
July, Monday 29
Children of the New World aka Les enfants du nouevau monde by Assia Djebar (1962), 233 Algeria – French/Algerian war
Assia Djebar, the most distinguished woman writer to emerge from the Arab world – and a top candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature – wrote “Children of the New World” following her own involvement in the Algerian resistance to colonial French rule. Djebar’s novel sheds light on current world conflicts as it reveals a determined Arab insurgency against foreign occupation, from the inside out. However, Djebar focuses on the experiences of women drawn into the politics of resistance. Her novel recounts the interlocking lives of women in a rural Algerian town who find themselves joined in solidarity and empower each other to engage in the fight for independence. Narrating the resistance movement from a variety of perspectives – from those of traditional wives to liberated students to political organisers – Djebar powerfully depicts the circumstances that drive oppressed communities to violence and at the same time movingly reveals the tragic costs of war.
August, Friday 30
Grey Souls aka Les âmes grises by Philippe Claudel (2003), 208 pages, France - WWI
This is ostensibly a detective story, about a crime that is committed in 1917, and solved 20 years later. The location is a small town in Northern France. The war is still being fought in the trenches, within sight and sound of the town, but the men of the town have been spared the slaughter because they are needed in the local factory. One freezing cold morning in the dead of winter, a beautiful ten-year old girl, one of three daughters of the local innkeeper, is found strangled and dumped in the canal. Suspicion falls on two deserters who are picked up near the town. Their interrogation and sentencing is brutal and swift. Twenty years later, the narrator, a local policeman, puts together what actually happened. On the night the deserters were arrested and interrogated, he was sitting by the bedside of his dying wife. He believes that justice was not done and wants to set the record straight. But the death of the child was not the only crime committed in the town during those weeks.
September, Monday 30
There’s No Home by Alexander Baron (1950), 288 pages, UK – WWII
‘An unqualified masterpiece … as acute a study of the psychology of war as fiction offers us’ Guardian It’s 1943. The allied invasion of Sicily. In a lull in the fighting, an exhausted British battalion marches into the searing summer heat of Catania, to be greeted by the women, children and old men emerging from the bomb shelters. Yearning for some semblance of domestic life, the men begin to fill the roles left by absent husbands and fathers. Unlikely relationships form, tender, exploitative even cruel, but all shaped by the exigencies of war. Centred around a love story, between Graziela, a young mother, and Sergeant Craddock, whose rough attempts at seduction are vindicated by his sympathy and the care he shows for her malnourished child, There’s No Home offers an unerringly humane and authentic portrayal of the emotional impact of war.
Ivan Grigoryevich has been in the Gulag for thirty years. Released after Stalin’s death, he finds that the years of terror have imposed a collective moral slavery. He must struggle to find a place for himself in an unfamiliar world. Grossman tells the stories of those people entwined with Ivan’s fate: his cousin Nikolay, a scientist who never let his conscience interfere with his career, Pinegin, the informer who had Ivan sent to the camps and Anna Sergeyevna, Ivan’s lover, who tells of her involvement as an activist in the Terror famine of 1932-3.
Everything Flows is Vasily Grossman’s final testament, written after the Soviet authorities suppressed Life and Fate.
November, Friday 29
Death of the Adversary aka Der Tod des Widersachers by Hans Keilson (1942), 224 pages, Germany – WWII
My enemy – I shall refer to him as B. – entered my life about twenty years ago. At that time I had only a very vague idea of what it meant to be someone’s enemy; still less did I realise what it was to have an enemy. One has to mature gradually towards one’s enemy as towards one’s best friend.
1930s Germany; the shadow of Nazism looms. Pictures of the new dictator, ‘B.’, fill magazines and newspapers. Our hero is ten when his world begins to change dramatically. Suddenly, the other children won’t let him join in their games. Later, he is refused a job on a shop-floor. Later still, he hears youths boasting of an attack on a Jewish cemetery. Both hypnotised and horrified by his enemy, our hero chronicles the fear, anger and defiance of everyday life under tyranny.
Written while Hans Keilson was in hiding during World War II, this novel is a powerful account of what he outlived. Painful, trenchant and streaked with dark humour The Death of the Adversary is a rediscovered masterpiece.
December, Monday 30
The Sorrow of War aka Thân phận của tình yêu by Bao Ninh (1991) 240 pages, Vietnam – Vietnam war
Kien’s job is to search the Jungle of Screaming Souls for corpses. He knows the area well – this was where, in the dry season of 1969, his battalion was obliterated by American napalm and helicopter gunfire. Kien was one of only ten survivors. This book is his attempt to understand the eleven years of his life he gave to a senseless war.
Based on true experiences of Bao Ninh and banned by the communist party, this novel is revered as the ‘All Quiet on the Western Front for our era’.
Kevin suggested this book and I think after having read a few US novels on the war in Vietnam it’s about time to read one written by a Vietnamese writer.
The rules are still the same. At the beginning of the month, I will post a quick introduction to the book and who likes, can readalong, and either just join the discussion or post a review on his/her blog as well. I will, as usual link to all the reviews.