April-June Theme Read: War and Regions in Conflict

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April-June Theme Read: War and Regions in Conflict

Editat: març 15, 2011, 10:30 pm


"What is a war?"
"War is defined as an active conflict that has claimed more than 1000 lives."
What Every Person Should Know About War by Chris Hedges

Over the past 3,400 years, humanity has been entirely at peace for only 268 of those years, and there is no dearth of literature about war. In making book recommendations, I have included only books about the major wars of the 20th and 21st centuries. I have tried to include books that have or appear to have some literary merit. In my list of World War II books, I have not included books that are specific to the Holocaust, a substantial subgenre of World War II literature. However, please do not feel restricted by the recommendation lists--if it's about war, and you want to read it, do so, and please share it with us. The Iliad anyone?

We're not suggesting that you answer any specific questions in your comments or reviews. These are just a few suggestions to think about when you are reading:

--Does the book present the soldier as a hero or as a victim?
--Is the book an "anti-war" book?
--Does the book glorify war?
--Does the book make a statement about the myths of war: duty, honor, courage, etc.?
--How does the book convey the horrors of war and its effects on body, mind and soul?
--Does the book make a statement about man's capacity for evil and/or for violence?
--If you have read books from more than one country, are there differences in the way the subject is treated?

Editat: març 15, 2011, 2:42 pm

A region in conflict can be defined as one in which:

a. Citizens are engaged in revolutionary activities against a government that no longer represents its interests or actively represses or terrorizes them. Examples include the recent people’s movements in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and the demonstrations in China that led to the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

b. People of one or more distinct groups (ethnic, religious, socioeconomic) are seeking equal rights and opportunities from the larger society, including movements of independence. Examples include the recent election in Sudan that allowed voters in the southern half of the country to secede from the north and form a separate country later this year, and the ongoing efforts of the Palestinian, Basque and Chechen people to form independent states.

c. Different groups within a country are engaged in clashes with each other that have not yet degenerated into civil war. Examples include Côte d'Ivoire, the Darfur region of Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

d. A territorial dispute exists between two countries or groups of people. Examples include Kashmir, Taiwan and Northern Cyprus.

This is a proposed list of regions in conflict:

Afghanistan (post-civil war)
Côte d’Ivoire
The Democratic Republic of Congo
East Timor
Israel and Palestine
Northern Ireland
Sierra Leone
Sri Lanka
Former Yugoslavia

Works of fiction are strongly preferred, but participants are encouraged to read relevant works of nonfiction or poetry.

Editat: març 15, 2011, 3:24 pm



All Quiet on the Western Front (1927) by Erich Maria Remarque--WWI classic
The Case of Sergeant Grischa (1927) by Arnold Zweig--Russian pow tries to escape from German camp
Fritz: The World War I Memoirs of a German Lieutenant by Fritz Nagel
Storm of Steel by Ernst Junger--war from pov of young German soldier


Under Fire (1916) by Henri Barbusse--"one of most influential of all war novels"; 1001 list
Clerambault ( 1920) by Romain Rolland--1915 Nobelist; author describes this book as "the confession of a free spirit telling its mistakes, its sufferings and its struggles from the midst of the tempist."
Journey to the End of the Night (1932) by Louis-Ferdinand Celine--Celine's first novel


The Good Soldier Svejk (1923) by Jaroslav Hasek--classic satire


August, 1914 (1972) by Alexandr Solzhenitsin
August, 1916 (1998) by Alexandr Solzhenitsin


Life in the Tomb by Stratis Myrivilis


Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman
Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence--the real Lawrence of Arabia
A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914-1918 (2007) by G.J. Meyer
The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussel--explores the works of many of the writers who memorialized the war; winner of the National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, and named as one of the Modern Library's best nonfiction books of the 20th century
Back to the Front: An Accidental Historian Walks the Trenches of World War I by Stephen O'Shea


The Penguin Anthology of First World War Stories (2007)--authors included are primarily British

Editat: març 15, 2011, 4:18 pm

World War I


Regeneration; The Eye in the Door; The Ghost Road by Pat Barker--Booker prize winning trilogy
The Enormous Room (1922) by e.e. cummings--semi-autobiographical account of war protester incarcerated in France
A Farewell to Arms (1929) by Ernest Hemingway--based on Hemingway's personal experiences as an ambulance driver
Goodbye to All That: An Autobiography (1929) by Robert Graves
In Parenthesis (1937) by David Jones--one of major works of 20th century poetry
Johnny Got His Gun (1939) by Dalton Trumbo--classic anti-war novel
The General (1936) by C.S Forester
Parades End by Ford Maddox Ford--masterpiece about transition from orderly Edwardian age to madness of war
An Ice Cream War (1982) by William Boyd--war in British and German colonies in East Africa
Three Soldiers (1923) by John Dos Passos--plight of ordinary enlisted man
Birds Without Wings (2005) by Louis de Bernieres--Gallipoli--Turkish pov
The Wars (1977) by Timothy Findley--Canadian soldier in WW I
Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (1930) by Siegfried Sassoon--based on Sassoon's experiences in the trenches
Testament of Youth (1933) by Vera Brittain--memoir of a generation
A Soldier of the Great War (1991) by Mark Helprin--cultured Italian's war experiences in the Tyrol and Sicily
The Secret Battle (1919) by A.P. Herbert--Gallipoli; praised for its accurate and truthful portrayal of the effects of war on soldiers
Through the Wheat (1923) by Thomas Boyd--marines in WW I
Paths of Glory (1935) by Humphrey Cobb--basis for the Stanley Kubrik film
Wipers: A Soldier's Tale (2009) by Jeff Simmons--digging trenches under no-man's land at Ypres
Generals Die in Bed (1930) by Charles Yale Harrison--Canadian soldier on the Western front; "no gentle treatise on war"
The Patriot's Progress by Henry Williamson--Harper's called this a masterpiece
Private 12768: Memoir of a Tommy (1926) by John Jackson
Death of a Hero (1929) by Richard Aldington--Lawrence Durrell called this the best war novel of the era
To the Last Man (2005) by Jeff Shaara--American experience narrated by historical figures
5516606::Company K (wrong touchstone) (1935) by William March--series of first hand vignettes by cross-section of soldiers
Her Privates We (1929) by Frederic Manning--Battle of the Somme; amazon reviewer: "There is no account of World War One that can be compared to this work."

Editat: maig 24, 2011, 8:36 pm

World War II


Every Man Dies Alone (1947) by Hans Fallada--Berlin during the war
The Time of Light (2000) by Gunnar Kopperud--Battle of Stalingrad
Das Boot by Lothar-Gunther Buchheim--German submariners
The Tin Drum (1959) by Gunter Grass
The Train Was on Time by Heinrich Boll
A Soldier's Legacy by Heinrich Boll
The Kindly Ones (2009) by Jonathan Littell--although the author is not German, this widely acclaimed novel is told from the pov of a German SS officer
The End: Hamburg 1943 by Hans Erich Nossack
The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer
The Stalin Front (1955) by Gerd Letig
Black Edelweiss: A Memoir of Combat and Conscience by Johann Voss


Life and Fate by Vassily Grossman--a classic panoramic war novel
The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin by Vladimir Voinovich--satire; the Russian Catch 22
Babi Yar by A. Anatoli Kuznetsov
Live and Remember by Valentin Rasputin


The Assault by Harry Mulisch--Holland
Closely Watched Trains by Bohumil Hrabal
Bridge Over the River Kwai (1952) by Pierre Boulle--pows building the "Death Railroad" in Burma; winner of France's Prix Sainte-Beuve
Kaputt by Curzio Malaparte--experiences of Italian consul to other Facist states
The Painted Bird (1965) by Jerzy Kosinki--Poland
Chronicle in Stone by Ismael Kadare--Albania
The General of the Dead Army by Ismael Kadare--an Italian general's mission to retrieve the buried bones of Italian soldiers killed in Albania
The Forests of the Night (wrong touchstone) (1955) by Jean-Louis Curtis--winner of Prix Goncourt; Nazi occupation of village in the Pyrenees
HHhH by Laurent Binet--winner of Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman 2010; attempted assassination of Nazi official in Prague
The Unknown Soldier by Vaino Linna--Finland
The Thirty Year War by Henrik Tikkanen--Finland
The Abruzzo Trilogy by Ignazio Silone--Italy

(I'm really annoyed that for some reason I can't get the touchstones to work on this last group of books)

Editat: març 16, 2011, 1:18 am

World War II


Fires on the Plain by Ooka Shohei
Requiem by Shizuko Go
Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse
Grass for My Pillow by Saiichi Maruya
Harp of Burma by Michio Takeyama
The Sea and Poison by Shusaku Endo
Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids by Kenzaburo Oe
Hiroshima by John Hersey
The Stones Cry Out by Hikaru Okuizumi
Twenty-four Eyes by Keisuke Kinoshita
Japan at War: An Oral History by cookharukotaya::Haruko Taya
Citadel in Spring by agawahiroyuki::Hiroyuki Agawa


A Gesture Life by Chang Rae Lee--Korea
Cry Slaughter by Edilberto K. Tiempo--Philippines
The Rape of Nanking by Irene Chang--China
When Elephants Dance by Tess Uriza Holth--Philipppines
And the War is Over by Ismail Marahimin--Indonesia; Winner of Pegasus Prize
The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng--Malaysia


Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
From Here to Eternity (1951) by James Jones--Pearl Harbor
The Thin Red Line (1962) by James Jones--Guadacanal
Whistle by James Jones--wounded soldiers in hospital after Guadacanal
The Naked and the Dead (1948) by Norman Mailer
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk
Europe Central by William Vollmann
A Midnight Clear by William Wharton
106178::A Bell for Adano by John Hersey
104457::The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monserrat
The Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard
King Rat by James Clavell
The Singapore Grip by J.G. Farrell
Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett
Famous Last Words by Timothy Findley
The Rising Tide by Jeff Shaara
No Less Than Victory by Jeff Shaara
The Steel Wave by Jeff Shaara
War of the Rats by David L. Robbins
Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres
No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front In World War II by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Editat: març 15, 2011, 5:41 pm

Korean War


War Trash by Ha Jin
Silver Stallion by Ahn Junghyo
The Surrendered by Chang Rae Lee


MASH by Richard Hooker
MASH: An Army Surgeon in Korea by Otto F. Apel
The Useless Servants (1993) by Rolando Hinojosa--racism in the army
I Am the Clay (1992) by Chaim Potok--devastation of Korean village
The Marines of Autumn by James Brady
No Other Way (1997) by Ben DeWitt--military intelligence
The Hunters (1956) by James Salter--fighter pilots
The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War by David Halberstam

Editat: març 15, 2011, 6:04 pm

Vietnam War


Novel Without a Name by Duong Thu Huong
Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram--this diary of a young doctor operating in makeshift jungle hospitals for the Viet Cong, was found by a U.S. soldier during "clean-up" operations. Against regulations, he kept it. In 2005, he returned it to her family in Vietnam, where it was published and became a bestseller.
The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh
When Heaven and Earth Changed Places byLe Ly Hayslip


The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien
In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O'Brien
The Bamboo Bed by William Eastlake
Paco's Story by Larry Heinemann
Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli
Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson
The Quiet American by Graham Greene
Dispatches by Michael Herr
A Dangerous Friend by Ward Just
Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone
A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo
The Thirteenth Valley by John Del Vecchio
Tiger the Lurp Dog by Kenn Miller


The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam
Street Without Joy: The French Debacle in Indochina by Bernard Fall
Four Hours in My Lai by Michael Bilton
The Vietnam War on Trial: The My Lai Massacre and the Court Martial of Lieutenant Calley by Michael Belknap

Editat: març 15, 2011, 6:16 pm


Jarhead by Anthony Swofford
Prayer in Rumayla by Charles Sheehan-Miles--available on Kindle for $.99 as of this entry
Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War by Anthony Shadid
What Was Asked of Us: An Oral History of the Iraq War by the Soldiers Who Fought It by Trish Wood
What I Heard About Iraq by Eliot Weinberger
Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Fiasco by Thomas E. Ricks
The Forever War by Dexter Filkins
Afghan Tales: Stories from Russia's Vietnam by O. Ermakov--war between Russia and Afghanistan
Earth and Ashes by Atiq Rahimi--war between Russia and Afghanistan

Editat: març 15, 2011, 5:05 pm

Regions in Conflict: Africa (Algeria, Côte d’Ivoire, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Libya, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan/Darfur, Tunisia)

Multinational works
Beirut 39: New Writing from the Arab World, edited by Samuel Shimon
The Anchor Book of Modern Arabic Fiction, edited by Denys Johnson-Davies

Algerian White by Assia Djebar
The German Mujahid by Boualem Sansal
The Last Summer of Reason by Tahar Djaout
The Attack by Yasmina Khadra (pen name of Mohammed Moulessehoul)
The Tongue’s Blood Does Not Run Dry: Algerian Stories by Assia Djebar

Côte d’Ivoire
Allah Is Not Obliged by Ahmadou Kourouma
Aya by Marguerite Abouet

The Democratic Republic of Congo
The Antipeople by Sony Labou Tansi
Life and a Half: A Novel by Sony Labou Tansi
Broken Glass by Alain Mabanckou

In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar
Anatomy of a Disappearance by Hisham Matar

The Oldest Orphan by Tierno Monénembo

Sierra Leone
The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih
Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela

The Pillar of Salt by Albert Memmi
The Malady of Islam by Abdelwahab Meddeb

Editat: març 15, 2011, 5:04 pm

Regions in Conflict: Asia (Afghanistan, Burma, East Timor, Iran, Iraq, Israel and Palestine, Kashmir, Kurdistan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Syria, Tibet, Yemen)

Multinational works
Literature from the "Axis of Evil": Writing from Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Other Enemy Nations, edited by Alane Mason
Beirut 39: New Writing from the Arab World, edited by Samuel Shimon
The Anchor Book of Modern Arabic Fiction, edited by Denys Johnson-Davies
Keys to the Garden: New Israeli Writing, edited by Ammiel Alcalay

The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi
The Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra

East Timor
The Redundancy of Courage by Timothy Mo

Jumping Over Fire by Nahid Rachlin
The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer
The Blind Owl by Sadeq Hedayat
Strange Times, My Dear: The Pen Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature, edited by Nahid Mozaffari

I’jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody by Sinan Antoon
The Last of the Angels by Fadhil al-Azzawi
Cell Block Five by Fadhil al-Azzawi
Baghdad, Mon Amour: A Journey of Exile and Return by Salah Al-Hamdani (memoir)
Scattered Crumbs by Muhsin Al-Ramli

Israel and Palestine
Friendly Fire by A.B. Yehoshua
To the End of the Land by David Grossman
A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz (autobiography)
Wandering Star by J.M.G. Le Clézio
A River Dies of Thirst by Mahmoud Darwish
Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life by Sari Nusseibeh (autobiography)

Chef by Jaspreet Singh
The Collaborator by Mirza Waheed
Curfewed Night: One Kashmiri Journalist's Frontline Account of Life, Love, and War in His Homeland by Basharat Peer

Gate of the Sun by Elias Khoury
White Masks by Elias Khoury
Origins: A Memoir by Amin Maalouf

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamad
A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif
In the City By the Sea by Kamila Shamsie
Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West by Benazir Bhutto (nonfiction)

Sri Lanka
Brixton Beach by Roma Tearne
Bone China by Roma Tearne
Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje
Reef by Romesh Gunesekera

The Pages of Day and Night by Adonis (poetry)
Breaking Knees: Modern Arabic Short Stories from Syria by Zakaria Tamer

Editat: març 15, 2011, 6:20 pm

Regions in Conflict: Europe (Chechnya, Cyprus, Kosovo, Northern Ireland, Former Yugoslavia)

I Am a Chechen! by German Sadulaev

Bitter Lemons by Lawrence Durrell
Tetralogy of the Times: Stories of Cyprus by G. Philippou Pierides


Northern Ireland

Former Yugoslavia
Death and the Dervish by Mesa Selimovic
The Banquet in Blitva by Miroslav Krleža

març 15, 2011, 3:23 pm

Regions in Conflict: The Americas and elsewhere

març 16, 2011, 8:40 am

THE CHACO WAR (1932-1935)

Most people don't know much about this brutal war between Paraguay and Bolivia, fought over the Gran Chaco region. It was South America's bloodiest military conflict of the 20th century. It was the first instance of large-scale air warfare in the Americas, with both sides utilizing antiquated biplanes. You can find more information on the Chaco War here:

Chaco War
The Gran Chaco War: Fighting for Mirages in the Foothills of the Andes

The book Son of Man, by the Paraguayan author Augusto Roa Bastos, is not completely about this conflict, but some chapters are set on the front lines. The entire book is filled with conflict, though, and I think it'd be a good fit for this theme read.

març 16, 2011, 1:19 pm

Wow! Deborah and Darryl, these lists are AMAZING! Thank you for all your hard work putting them together. It will be extremely difficult to decide what to read, especially since I'm sure others will join in with other recommendations.

For example, I can add The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa and the nonfiction Backlands by Euclides da Cunha (which I haven't read yet) about the Canudos rebellion in Brazil (although this was back in the late 19th century).

The amazing Murder City by Charles Bowden is a nonfiction look at the "drug war" in Ciudad Juarez that has led to the killings of thousands.

Troubles by J. G. Farell for Regions in conflict/Ireland

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak for the first world war and regions in conflict (the Russian Revolution and the subsequent civil war)

The Siege by Helen Dunmore for World War II/Russia/the siege of Leningrad

Conquered City by Victor Serge for Regions in Conflict/Russian civil war

Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder Nonfiction, chilling, and important about "Europe between Hitler and Stalin".

Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson Moral ambiguity and the Vietnam war

Probably more thoughts will come to me.

Editat: març 18, 2011, 7:15 pm

I plan to read World War II from several different viewpoints. Here's the books I'm planning on, for now:

Jews (non-Holocaust stories only)

My Enemy's Cradle by Sara Young

Americans (involved in the war, but distantly)

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
Letters From Home by Kristina McMorris

The British (still free, but directly attacked by Germany)

The Eye of the Needle by Ken Follet
The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley

Occupied Territory (about people living in occupied countries, but still resisting)

A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell


Officer Factory by Hans Hellmut Kirst
Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada

I am specifically avoiding Holocaust stories, because for one, I know a lot about that already, and another, I don't think I could deal with it in my fiction reading. I'm sure this thread will get me some more recs for stories fitting my criteria, but I could sure use a recommendation for a story from the viewpoint of the 'ordinary' German citizen during the war.

EDITED: to add Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada to my list as a book that deals with the perspective of ordinary German citizens. Thanks to arubabookwoman for the rec!

març 18, 2011, 11:23 am

the just published Tiger's Wife set in the Balkans is getting rave reviews.

març 18, 2011, 4:19 pm

Samantha-kathy--For books from viewpoint of ordinary German citizens during the war, I'd recommend Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada and The End: Hamburg 1943 by Hans Erich Nossack.

març 18, 2011, 7:16 pm

Thanks for the recs! Every Man Dies Alone sounds like it is exactly what I was looking for.

Editat: març 19, 2011, 7:44 am

>17 Samantha_kathy: I don't know if this is what you are looking for, but it probably should be added to the overall list anyway... The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

edited to add: this is tagged as a holocaust story, although IMO it really isn't.

Editat: març 19, 2011, 8:52 am

my contributions

- Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series of British naval stories; starts with Master and Commander
- Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe's series, does the same thing as O'Brian except in the British army; first book chronologically is Sharpe's Tiger, which is set in British India...
- The Hornblower saga by C.S. Forester

- Anne Perry wrote a trilogy (well it started as a trilogy...now it's up to six books) starting with No Graves As Yet
- a terrific series of books set in out-of-the-way Austria by John Biggins. The first book is A Sailor of Austria
- a classic just recently brought to my attention (so I haven't actually read the book, but, like most of us, I AM familiar with the story); The African Queen by C.S. Forester

- as mentioned above, I think that The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak deserves a spot on any WWII list
- I am surprised that no one has mentioned what is probably MY favorite WWII story; Herman Wouk's...Pulitzer-Prize winning The Caine Mutiny
- another classic series of stories by Olivia Manning collected into two trilogies The Balkan Trilogy and The Levant Trilogy
- Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas; YA novel about the Japanese Internment camps.


two books deserving mention that I don't see on the list

- Tasting the Sky by Ibtisam Barakat; set in Palestine
- A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah; set in Sierra Leone

Editat: març 19, 2011, 8:26 am

Impressive, deborah and darryl -- the work you've put into this!

Here are a few more titles to add to the list


S. or As If I'm Not There by Slavenka Draculic, the Balkan wars in the 1990s
Sorrow of Belgium by Hugo Claus, Nazi-occupied Belgium during WWII
The Time of Light by Gunnar Kopperud, Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1994, and Siege of Stalingrad
Sleepwalking Land by Mia Couto, war in Mozambique
The Smile of the Lamb by David Grossman, Israeli-occupied territories
Coup de Grace by Marguerite Yourcenar, White Russians against the Bolsheviks set in the Baltic states
The Night in Lisbon by Erich Maria Remarque, WWII


Sideshow by William Shawcross, Cambodia
Waltz with Bashir by Ari Folman, Lebanon
Pity the Nation by Robert Fisk, Lebanon
The Great War for Civilization by Robert Fisk, Middle East
No End Save Victory: Perspectives on WWII, various authors, accounts from all fronts of the war
The Face of War by Martha Gellhorn, various wars of the 20th century
Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell, Spanish civil war
Spanish Testament by Arthur Koestler, Spanish civil war
Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of WWII's Greatest Rescue Mission by Hampton Sides, American POWs in the Philippines
Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco, Palestine
Flight to Arras by Antoine St. Exupery, memoir, Battle of France 1940

eta: touchstones not working

març 19, 2011, 8:53 am

21 & 22> I know The Book Thief got great reviews, at least from every book blogger I know. I tried reading it, but found I didn't like the 'voice' of the book. I just couldn't get into it. It's stayed a 'did not finish' ever since.

23> Definitely seconding The Sorrow of Belgium! I loved that book.

març 21, 2011, 3:58 pm

Hmm. Lists always make me want to rebel:-) I'm off to find something not on the lists.

març 21, 2011, 5:16 pm

Here's my reading list for this theme. I'm really looking forward to it; I just hope I have time to get through the books!

The War at the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa
Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee
Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
Remembering Babylon by David Malouf
Malayan Trilogy by Anthony Burgess
The Old Gringo by Carlos Fuentes
Kim by Rudyard Kipling

març 21, 2011, 6:37 pm

Oo! I'm definitely starring this thread for future reference. There a lot of books on this book that I've read and are really the books I go back to over and over again when I'm recommending books to others. The Japan list looks really good. There are some fabulous titles in that list.

Fires on the Plain by Shohei Ooka
Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse
Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids by Kenzaburo Oe
Hiroshima by John Hersey

I'm thinking I'd like to read a few more Japanese books on the subject and add to the list you already have. Now, I just need to get back into reading as I've read only 2 books so far this year at a grand total of about 250 pages.

març 21, 2011, 9:54 pm

Lots of good books already mentioned but I want to add two more to the Israel list that deal with soldiers under fire.
Beaufort by Ron Leshem - about Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000.
Adjusting Sights by Haim Sabato - Yom Kippur War - one of my memorable reads last year.
and also a graphic novel Waltz with Bashir: a Lebanon War story which is based on the film that Folman made (nonfiction and already mentioned by deebee).

Timothy Findley's The Wars (Canada)
Kipling's Choice by Geert Spillebeen (Netherlands) is a young adult novel that re-imagines the tragedy of Rudyard Kipling's son Jack during the fighting in France.

There are several good graphic novels dealing with warfare including these non-fiction French ones The Photographer: Into War-torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders & Alan's War: The Memories of G.I. Alan Cope both by Emmanuel Guibert.

#17> I read A Thread of Grace a couple of months ago and thought it was very good.

I'll be reading The Good Soldier Svejk as it's already near the top of my tbr pile.

Editat: març 29, 2011, 11:54 pm

Thanks everyone for putting together such great lists!

I'd like to add one to the WWI list: 74392::Three day road by 2961621::Joseph Boyden (Canadian author from a first nations POV)

Also Eves of heaven by Andrew Pham (non fiction memoir of "Vietnam" war as told to him by his father.)

abr. 1, 2011, 8:12 am

I'm starting out with A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962, Alistair Horne's award-winning study of the Algerian War for Independence, and The Collaborator by Mirza Waheed, a newly published novel set in a small town in Kashmir in the early 1990s that is caught in the middle of the Indian-Pakistani conflict over the region.

abr. 1, 2011, 12:31 pm

Just checking in and pondering my choice.....

abr. 1, 2011, 3:00 pm

Started Roosevelt's Secret War and will then move on to The March for something in the fiction arena. I have lots to choose from, so will probably read several for this theme.

abr. 2, 2011, 7:50 pm

Fantastic lists - thanks so much to everyone for the recommendations. I will be starting with The Stones Cry Out, and perhaps Empire Of The Sun.

I also have Tree Of Smoke on Mt. TBR and am keen to get to it, so I'll try to do so in these three months.

Editat: abr. 3, 2011, 6:16 am

Thanks to a tip from LTer Busifer I am reading Rising Tide by Gary Weir. It is very interesting. I will get back with a review when I've finished it.

Editat: abr. 3, 2011, 11:23 am

Since the beginning of 2011 I have read The Tin Drum, Unbroken, Matterhorn........must have been anticipating this group read theme....otherwise I cannot explain it. Anyway, I have had A Soldier of the Great War on my TBR pile for a while, so I think I will read that soon and then perhaps I'll do a compare and contrast posting....if I feel ambitious at the time only!

(Oops....read Matterhorn in Dec 2010!)

abr. 6, 2011, 7:53 pm

Quite surprised this hasn't already been mentioned but Anthony Loyd's My War Gone By I Miss It So is one of the finest books on war I have read. And there have been a fair few.

Loyd is a young British freelance correspondent finding himself drawn to Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early/mid '90s mess in the collapsed Yugoslavia. The complex 3-way conflict between ethnic Croats, Serbs, and Muslims, is dispassionately approached as the author discovers that there is little that makes sense in this grisly war in a relatively wealthy and 'civilised' country in the heart of Europe. Loyd's own personal battles with his addictions to both heroin and war itself make this an original and unforgettable read on modern war.

abr. 6, 2011, 9:25 pm

I plan to alternate books set in regions that are currently experiencing conflict with books depicting war itself. For example, starting with Season of Migration to the North (Sudan), then perhaps Under Fire (World War I). I'm hoping to fit in the trilogy by J. G. Farrell: Troubles, The Siege of Krishnapur, and The Singapore Grip.

A note for those who may want to read From Here to Eternity: A new edition is being released next month as an e-book only that restores passages such as references to homosexuality that were censored by Jones' publisher. Here is a BBC News article. The publisher is Open Road Media.

Editat: abr. 17, 2011, 3:27 pm

Once more I wandered off into the non-fiction on Mt TBR for the first book in this challenge. The title held more promise for it fitting into the challenge than it actually did as it turned out that its topic was more spirituality-to-overcome-anger-to-overcome-war. But here it is:

Peace Begins Here: Palestinians and Israelis Listening to Each Other by Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh is a respected and beloved Vietnamese Buddhist priest living in exile in France. He is well known for his writings on Buddhism and mindfulness as well as his peace work. In 2003 Nhat Hanh’s French retreat/monastery, Plum Village, was the site of a gathering for Israelis and Palestinians to come together and share their stories and their pain with each other.

The descriptions of interactions between the Palestinians and Israelis were very interesting but much too brief. From the title I was hoping to have more than just a small percentage of this slim book detail these talks. Also interesting but too brief, were Nhat Hanh’s descriptions of being a young priest in Vietnam, working to rebuild schools and clinics only to have them destroyed (unfortunately by American bombings) many times over.

Most of the book is about the internal spiritual work one must do in order to hear another’s pain through your own anger. It gives guidance how mindfulness and meditation can bring you through your anger to hear the suffering of the person you’re angry at—whether it’s the enemy on the other side of a centuries old war or a loved member of your family.

Although I am not a Buddhist, there is much about Buddhist philosophy that I admire and I always come away from Thich Nhat Hanh’s works feeling that I have gained insight.

Editat: abr. 19, 2011, 6:43 pm

I, too, started my reading in the non-fiction arena with Roosevelt's Secret War: FDR and World War II Espionage by Joseph E. Persico. Though the book was not the best written or edited, it did have some material I was unfamiliar with:

Persico did an excellent job of explaining what FDR was like as an administrator and how carefully he managed the thousands of balls he had in the air at any one time. He was a true master of illusion, never letting anyone know what he or anyone else was doing.

I was surprised to learn that the Army and Navy were competing in espionage collection and that they had a screwy system for giving the information they gleaned from the Japanese encryptions to the President (on some kind of 'need to know basis' which only they decided and which had a very big effect on Pearl Harbor), how very early the Manhattan Project began, how very underprepared the U. S. was for the war, that England was both spying on the U. S. and not reporting important information to us even though we were supposedly equal partners in the quest to crush Germany, that even though Japan has clear proof that their codes had been broken by the U. S. they never changed them, giving us an open line not only into their workings, but through one of their spies, into the German plans as well, that Churchill and Roosevelt both turned a blind eye to Stalin's massacre of thousands Polish officers, and how truly excellent and effective the Russian spies were in the U. S.

Editat: abr. 29, 2011, 5:59 am

two on World War II's Pacific theater

Pacific Glory by P.T. Deutermann; Scenes from the Battle of Savo Island, Battle of Midway, and climaxes with a compelling account of the naval Battle of Leyte Gulf (Battle off Samar) from the perspective of the "Taffy 3" fleet... tremendous action scenes wrapped around Deutermann's obligatory love triangle (ala the movie Pearl Harbor).

The Final Storm by Jeff Shaara; releases next month (May 17th), I was fortunate enough to obtain an ARC; A terrific story covering the final months of the war in the Pacific with a truly horrific account of the battle for Okinawa, recounted in Shaara's trademark fashion, from multiple perspectives. The last fourth of the book tells the story of the dropping of the A-bomb... includes perspectives from the pilot, President Truman, and a Japanese doctor and general in Hiroshima. Absolutely compelling.

abr. 30, 2011, 8:52 am

I just finished The Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett. I'm counting this book towards the British perspective in my World War Two reading, but the chapters of Faber (the German spy) also give insight into the German side of things.

This is a brilliant book. It takes a very talented writer to create such a suspenseful book when everyone knows the outcome already. Everyone knows Germany lost the war, so there’s no question that Faber will not succeed in his task, yet I couldn’t help but wonder if he would manage to pull it off.

The plot of the book is excellent, but more so are the characters. Even Faber is likeable, in fact, I actually liked Faber more than any other character. The little quirks of the character are so good, even though he’s the bad guy. I loved that the little detail of Faber deliberately giving the Luftwaffe the wrong information to protect a British cathedral he admires. That’s just brilliant, no other word for it.

What makes this novel work most of all is the fact that it could have happened like this. Pretty creepy to thinkl about, actually, how close we could have been (and maybe even were) to having Hitler win the war!

Mere words cannot describe how much I love this book. I highly recommend it!

abr. 30, 2011, 11:32 am

how close we could have been (and maybe even were) to having Hitler win the war!

Once the Russians broke his back, there was no fear of that. Only of the Red Army sweeping right through to the Atlantic.

abr. 30, 2011, 11:58 am

42> Honestly, I'm not so sure. If Hitler had won against the Allied Forces, he could've put everything he had towards winning from the Russians. Not to mention the boost in morale it would've given the German army.

Editat: abr. 30, 2011, 2:41 pm

So far both books I've read/am reading that seemed to be about war or conflict aren't really . . . But at least I have two more months.

ETA From what I've read, Hitler's biggest military mistake was not only going to war against the Russians but probably more importantly ignoring the advice of his generals to avoid getting stuck in the Russian winter (anyone remember Napoleon?). Not to take anything away from the Red Army, but the Russian winter was a big help too. And it was certainly due to the war on the eastern front and the massive number of Russian deaths that the war in the West was so much less lethal (see statistics enumerated in my reviews of Hitler and Stalin and Bloodlands.

abr. 30, 2011, 3:03 pm


Er, you do know when Hitler invaded Russia? 1941. Was still a way away from "Allied victory".


Except the Germans were mucking around in Russia for some good 3 years. It took a number of Russian "seasons" to do the beating. Funny, it's always the indomitable British spirit that won the battle of Britain, but in the East--'twas the winter did it. Wouldn't want any credit to go to the red devils.

abr. 30, 2011, 3:58 pm

44>Too bad the books were not really about what you thought they were. Which books are you reading? Was it false advertising by the blurb? (I hate it when that happens)

45> True, he invaded Russia in 1941 and a lot of damage to his forces was done in three years. Spirits were down and a lot of the men stationed in Russia were wounded. But about half his army was fighting the British (and Allied Forces) at the same time, either in Africa or by guarding the coast and other strategic points. If in 1945 D-Day had been won by the Germans, a lot of those men (with high spirits and renewed vigor) could've gone to Russia. How long could the Russians have held out to a full on assault, instead of the half-assault Hitler was forced to fight due to fighting at two fronts?

But you're right, it wasn't just the winter that did Hitler's army in, although it did help. Just as the fact that Britain is an island helped the British. Home turf almost always helps, especially if your home turf has something special.

abr. 30, 2011, 6:41 pm

Great discussion guys!

maig 1, 2011, 8:13 am

Aquest missatge ha estat suprimit pel seu autor.

maig 1, 2011, 8:19 am

a couple of comments

first of all... the eastern front in 1944 occupied some ~160 German divisions (albeit many divisions were only at 1/2 strength) while the western front (France & Belgium) held ~60 divisions (again many were understrength). The actual D-day landings were opposed by only ~10000 German soldiers. By 1944 the war in the east was lost, German forces were being pushed back on every front and it was only a matter of time. Hitler's failure to listen to his generals cost him a chance at capturing Moscow in 1941, and cost him the initiative and one of his best commanders along with his entire army at Stalingrad in 1942. Stalin had been begging for a second front from the very beginning... Churchill persuaded Roosevelt to come up through Africa and Italy so as to ensure British interests in Africa thus the first invasions were in North Africa in late 1942 and 1943.

I think to suggest that had D-day not happened when it did that Hitler would have won in the east is probably incorrect. Churchill had no real love for France, was in no hurry to liberate western Europe, was far more concerned about preserving British colonial interests. The allied leaders could read the writing on the wall however, and knew that they had better put armies on the continent before Stalin got too far along... else the entire continent would have fallen under Russian control... as it was, it was a near thing anyway.

What about the Russian army? Poorly led, poorly armed (at least in the beginning), discipline was maintained at the point of a gun by political officers. Space and winter played, by far, the largest role in winning the war in the east.

Editat: maig 1, 2011, 9:16 am

And, one of the reasons the Red Army was poorly led initially was because Stalin had killed most of his top generals, etc., in the purges of the late 30s.

#46, Yes, one book was the disappointing Ice Road by Gillian Slovo which, despite the title and the blurb on the back on my edition, was only in the last 25-50 pages about the siege of Leningrad and was mostly about the early days of the Soviet Union with a focus on Stalin's murderous purges of the late 30s. The other, which I'm reading now, is Life and a Half; its blurb saysit was "Sony Labou Tansi's response to the death of close friends during a bloody military and political crackdown in Congo. . . Martial's spirit lives on to guide his followers in their fight against the dictators." But that "fight" isn't a war.

maig 1, 2011, 10:20 am

good histories about the Russian purges of the 30's are hard to find... I will give Ice Road a look as it looks interesting regardless.

Editat: maig 1, 2011, 11:39 am

Ice Road was a very disappointing book for the reasons I gave in my review on the book page. I highly recommend The Case of Comrade Tulayev by Victor Serge and Everything Flows by Vassily Grossman for fiction; Hitler and Stalin by Alan Bullock and tangentially Gulag by Anne Applebaum (which I am currently reading) and Bloodlands by snydertimothy::Timothy Snyder for nonfiction.

Edited to fix touchstone.

maig 2, 2011, 7:03 am

some good recommendations rebecca.. thanks! Reading the reviews of Hitler and Stalin led me to Robert Conquest's books, namely The Great Terror. God knows when I'll find time to read these... but they're on my list!

maig 2, 2011, 8:35 am

I read Conquest's The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror Famine after reading Grossman's "fictionalization" of it in Everything Flows. It was quite a slog, because it assumed greater knowledge of the ins and outs of Soviet politics than I had, so I would only recommend it to a scholar of the period. I also gather that there is some controversy about Conquest, but I believe it is about his politics rather than his scholarship.

maig 10, 2011, 1:10 pm

I finished The March by E. L. Doctorow:

At its most simple, this is a novel about General Sherman's march to the sea at the close of the Civil War. Doctorow chose to tell the story through the lives of those who would have been most affected by it, the white Southerners, their negro slaves, the soldiers on both sides, the hospital staff traveling with the army, the officers, and General Sherman and his staff. He clearly did some serious research into Sherman's march and I often felt as if I were actually traveling with the army as they moved.

The book moves back and forth between the various characters (and there are many) as the army moves from place to place, so that some of the characters drop off and new are added as the action moves away or as deaths occur. At first I found the quick change of characters confusing, but they shortly became like family to me and the scenes of their daily lives frequently riveting.

Doctorow wrote some of his scenes with a wry humor which, for a short while, relieves the grimness of the story. He's drawn a terrific plot and some unforgettable characters which will no doubt live in my head for some time to come.

Editat: maig 10, 2011, 10:31 pm

The Collaborator by Mirza Waheed

This novel is narrated by an unnamed young man, the son of a headman in a small predominantly Muslim village in Indian controlled Kashmir in the early 1990s, whose four closest childhood friends have crossed the border into Pakistan to become freedom fighters after brutal government reprisals against the separatist movement. After a particularly violent crackdown by the Indian Army, the young man is "encouraged" by the local army captain and his humiliated and defeated father to work as a special assistant to the captain, in opposition to the militants and his own desire to join them.

The narrator then travels back to his idyllic and carefree childhood with his friends and family, before the appointment of the virulently anti-Muslim head of Kashmir and the electoral fraud that served as triggers to the uprisings that led to the bloody conflict throughout the region. The villagers suffer great hardship, as the Indian Army brutally punishes the families whose sons have joined the separatist movement, aided by local collaborators (not including the narrator). As the conflict becomes more intense and more villagers are tortured or killed, each family and each person must decide to stay in the village, or flee to an unknown destination, and an uncertain destiny. The narrator is also torn between loyalty to his father, who begs with his son to stay in the village and work for the Indian Army captain who regularly insults and tortures his people, and his desire for revenge and justice for his friends and neighbors.

The Collaborator is a superb and gripping debut novel, which is also an insightful and instructive book about the recent crisis in Kashmir, which I found difficult to put down after the first 20 pages.

maig 10, 2011, 10:31 pm

Curfewed Night: One Kashmiri Journalist's Frontline Account of Life, Love, and War in His Homeland by Basharat Peer

This book served as an excellent counterpart to The Collaborator, Mirza Waheed's novel about the crisis in Kashmir in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as the narrator of that novel and the author of this book are of similar ages and backgrounds. Peer, a studious young man whose father is a respected government official in Srinagar, the summertime capital of Kashmir, shares his personal experiences as his village, like others throughout the region, experience great hardship and tragedy during the Indian Army crackdown against separatist militants and those who support them. In contrast to the narrator of Waheed's novel, who seeks to travel to Pakistan to join his childhood friends and become a freedom fighter, Peer, with the help of his family, moves to Delhi to finish secondary school and attend law school. While working as a newspaper journalist there, he is assigned to write stories about the growing crisis in Kashmir. He travels back to his home village, and encounters former friends and neighbors, Hindu and Muslim, there and in Srinagar and Jammu. Deeply disturbed by what he sees there, and facing discrimination as a Muslim Kashmiri in Delhi, he decides to abandon his career as a journalist and write a book about the people he knew, those Kashmiris of different backgrounds he encounters, and the troubled past and recent history of the region.

Curfewed Night succeeds as a personal and an 'on the scene' account of life in Kashmir during the crisis, and in its hopeful aftermath following the peace resolution between India and Pakistan in 2004. However, a more detailed history of the region and the origins of the recent crisis would have made this a much better book, in my opinion, although I would strongly recommend this book for anyone who is unfamiliar with Kashmir or its people.

maig 14, 2011, 9:44 am

The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

This enchanting novel is set in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, at the end of the country's civil war that lasted from 1991-2002. Adrian Lockheart, a British psychologist who has left his family to pursue a more personally fulfilling career, is at the bedside of Elias Cole, a former university professor and dean who is nearing the end of his life. Adrian encourages Elias to share his story with him on weekly therapeutic visits , and Cole tells him about his career, including his friendship with Julius Kamara, another university professor, and his young wife Saffia, who Julius sees for the first time at a faculty gathering just before the successful Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. He is immediately entranced by her, and spends much of his spare time thinking of ways to get closer to her.

The story of Elias and Saffia is interwined with Adrian's experiences in post-war Sierra Leone, along with his friendship with Kai, a talented young surgeon who has used Adrian's living quarters as a place to crash prior to the psychologist's arrival. The men become close friends, although Kai is clearly scarred by his experiences during the recent civil war, which he is unable to share with his friend.

Adrian's primary interest is in diagnosing and treating victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and he cares for several hospitalized patients who appear to suffer from this problem due to the civil war. He attempts to get several of them to talk about their experiences, but few of these poor souls are willing or able to share their stories or accede to his treatment plans. His colleagues and Kai are respectful of his work, but they tell him that his methods have little chance to make any impact on the lives of his patients, due to the country's lack of resources and the different cultural beliefs about mental health.

Elias is the only person who will talk freely about the past with Adrian, and through the life of the dying man and his relationships with Julius and Saffia he learns about the country's postcolonial history, including the devastating civil war that destroyed the fabric of the country and the will of thousands of Sierra Leoneans.

Adrian falls in love with a local woman, whose ties to the other major characters provide a tension to and deeper understanding of their stories. As their relationship deepens, Adrian is forced to decide whether to stay in Sierra Leone, where he is loved and believes he has much to offer, while Kai agonizes over his long held desire to move to the United States where he can practice medicine and exorcise the internal demons that plague his dreams and affect his work.

The Memory of Love is a stunning and deeply moving novel about love in its different forms, and how it can affect and be affected by greed, selfishness, personal ambition and war. The narrative is superb, and I found myself emotionally tied to the lives of the characters as much as any other book I've read in the past decade.

maig 15, 2011, 5:04 pm

Thanks for the review, kidzdoc. I've been looking forward to getting that book when it comes out in PB.

maig 19, 2011, 1:51 am

I just (finally) completed The War at the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa. My full review is at http://www.librarything.com/profile_reviews.php?view=technodiabla

For this theme, this book was pretty good, not perfect. It's based on a historical civil war in 1890s Brazil. The newly formed Republic seeks to quash a somewhat rebellious religious sect that has taken over a hacienda and created a mecca for outcasts. I don't usually like books with lots of war strategy stuff, but this one was OK-- still lots of personal stories to get interested in. Interestingly enough, despite being completely immersed after spending 7 long weeks with this book, I did not feel like I was "siding" with the cult or the government. Nicely balanced that way. (Of course you already know the rebels gets killed eventually, so you don't get too attached). I great book if you have patience and a strong stomach. 4.25 stars

maig 19, 2011, 2:09 am

Just realized that the book I just read works for this particular group read. Here is what I wrote in my Club Read thread.

Michio Takeyama : Harp of Burma
3.5/5 stars

Read this on the plane coming back from Japan as I've been meaning to read it for quite a while. It takes place during the Japanese occupation of Burma during WWII and reflects on a troop as they try to keep hope alive through music and their refusal to leave a man behind. It's a good story but I can't help but compare it to Fires on the Plain/ which this book simply cannot compete against. Some of the primary differences:

Focuses on despair
Focuses on a single soldier and his struggles
Struggle to keep humanity alive

Focuses on hope
Focuses on an entire troop and their struggles
Struggle to leave their humanity and compassion behind

Both books reflected on the struggles of the individual versus society but in slightly different ways. Harp's main concept is the comparison of Burma's way of living versus Japan and which is more correct. A highly civilized advanced society based on military teaching versus a society that sacrifices advancement based on religious training for the sake of a strong sense of religion and community.

"We Japanese have not cared to make strenuous spiritual efforts. We have not even recognized their value. What we stressed was merely a man's abilities, the things he could do -- not what kind of a man he was, how he lived, or the depth of his understanding. Of perfection as a human being, of humility, stoicism, holiness, the capacity to gain salvation and to help others toward it -- of all these virtues we were left ignorant."

It is believed that Japan has lost its moral sense out of greed and that's why they came to lose the war. Men forgot their own independent way of thinking to become patriotic and to conglomerate themselves to a greater sense of unity. But one can't go anywhere with such a group mentality.

This passage along with another debate between two soldiers at the beginning of the book (pg. 46 in the standard copy) are certainly the strongest parts of the book. Although the story of Mizushima is quite heartfelt and admirable.

Overall, a pleasant read but nothing compared to Fires.

As for your questions:
1) Does the book present the soldier as a hero or as a victim? Is the book an "anti-war" book?
Almost neither one, actually. The war is actually not a huge character in this book if that makes sense. But overall it is certainly anti-war. Or at least, it questions the progress that society has made as this progress has led to such technological advancement as the nuclear bomb.

2) How does the book convey the horrors of war and its effects on body, mind and soul?
In this particular novel the war definitely ways on all three of those aspects of the human condition. The reason that these soldiers tried to relieve their unease with music.

3) Does the book make a statement about man's capacity for evil and/or for violence?
This is probably the main point of this particular book as it questions whether it's better to be a society without much progress but is founded deep in religion and thus opposed to war versus being a society full of progress but questioning if that progress isn't too dangerous.

maig 20, 2011, 10:04 pm

I have read several books which fall into this category since January, including Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes, and Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand.

The first is set during the Vietnam War, and the second is set during WWI. Matterhorn is fiction, while Unbroken is non-fiction. I found them both to be profoundly powerful. Matterhorn chronicles the experiences of a specific unit of American soldiers, and one officer in particular. Unbroken tells the story of an individual, from his wild youth through his experiences as both an Olympic runner who shook the hand of Hitler and was a Japanese POW during WWII.

I think I walk away from those two reads with a sense of the cruelty of war and the amazing strength of the human spirit. In Matterhorn the reader must contend with the impact on soldiers caused by their own officers making life altering, or even life ending decisions from a distance of hundreds, if not thousands, of miles, based on inaccurate and highly politicized reports. In Unbroken, the cruelty of Japanese POW camps was absolutely appalling, and it seems miraculous that a person could survive the experience, much less recover and become a person filled with compassion, forgiveness, and dignity.

I strongly recommend both books for anyone interested in understanding what it can mean to be a soldier, and/or what it means to exist at the whim of commanders from afar.

maig 22, 2011, 1:10 pm

I just read The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak, which is a combination of a coming of age story and a story about the first world war. I had mixed feelings about it.

Yes, it is beautifully written, moving, and hard to put down. I was quickly drawn into the story, starting with a brief prelude about a horrific event in a Colorado mining town in 1899 that led to a Slav immigrant father taking his infant son back to his home town in the Carpathian Mountains of what was then the Austro-Hungarian empire; the rest of the book is the tale, told in old age by that infant son, of his childhood and young manhood, including his army service in the first world war, back in the old country. The boy's relationship with his father and adopted brother, the sense of place and time, especially up in the mountains sheepherding or working as a sniper, and the meditations on life and death are lovely. The sense of the devastation of war, and the horrible horrible waste of life, is palpable.

But . . . as the story developed I had a problem, and that was that the language is so beautiful, and the writing so good, and the choice of words occasionally so arcane that I just couldn't believe that someone who had been an uneducated young shepherd/soldier could be telling the tale, even though he was in his 70s and living in Pennsylvania, and even though his father had taught him English by reading Thoreau and Melville. I just couldn't mesh the writing with the character. Another slight problem was the incredible geographic detail; it felt a little bit as though it came out of a book (and, indeed, Krivak cites several sources in his acknowledgments).

My sense is that Krivak took a family story and wove this novel out of it. He is an excellent writer, and I can see why he wanted to write in the first person, but the book didn't completely work for me.

In response to some of the questions asked in the first post:

The soldier is not exactly presented as a hero, although he initially wants to enlist and is proud of his expertise as a sniper. Later, he becomes just a regular infantry soldier and is exposed more graphically to the death and destruction and hunger of war.

The book doesn't glorify war, but it isn't an antiwar book. War is something that happens. Some of the secondary characters express opinions about duty and honor, but it's not something that the protagonist relates to; he is, however, courageous. The books certainly depicts the horrible wastefulness of war, and its soul-disturbing qualities.

maig 23, 2011, 11:43 pm

I read two novels about World War I written by Alexander Solzhenitsin. Here are my thoughts:

August 1914 is, perhaps not unexpectedly given the author, a masterpiece. And despite the fact that it lists 9 pages of characters and requires more than 700 pages to cover one battle which took place over a few days shortly after Russia entered the war, it was a relatively easy read, and very difficult to put down. Its frequent comparison to War and Peace is not unjustified.

If there is an overriding theme in the book it is of the disconnect between the generals and other commanders far distant from the war arena and the soldiers actually fighting the battles. The soldiers at the front in Prussia could take no action unless the Command Center, headed by the Tsar himself, had given specific orders to do so. Often by the time the orders were received at the front conditions had so changed that to comply with the orders was insanity. The result was a complete rout of the Russian army, to such an extent that the commander in the field committed suicide in the surrounding forest.

I'm not a student of military history (nor do I want to be), but this novel, although focused on a particular battle, can be enjoyed by someone with little interest in military manuevers. A map of the terrain and surrounding towns is provided, but I found it to be of use only in the most general sense. Since I don't have a good understanding of military manuevers, I would have found maps showing the periodic locations of the various armies to have been helpful. As noted, however, this lack did not affect my general admiration for the book.

I immediately began November 1916, and unfortunately would not recommend it. It is a continuation of Solzhenitsyn's treatment of Russia's involvement in World War I. The events leading up to the 1917 revolution also begin to play a prominent role. While the first installment, August, 1914 was highly readable and absolutely compelling, I abandoned this one about half-way through.

The book is dense and extremely detailed, and for the most part reads like a dry history treatise. The novelistic aspects and characters of August 1914 play second fiddle. Solzhenitsyn has also chosen to include huge bundles of source documents, transcripts of Duma proceedings for example, within the narrative itself. To give you an idea of what you can expect to find in the book, here is the headnote description of Chapter 7, the origins of the Kadets:

How did the schism begin?--why were the terrorists in such a hurry?--terror as an assertion of righteousness--liberalism's leftward deviation--difficulty of the middle line--original orientation of the Russian zemstovo--how it differed from western local governmental institutions--Alexandr III puts the brakes on--self-limitation in the conduct of state affairs?--Nikolai II and "groundless dreams"--the idee fixe: hold back from evolution--Shipov's interprovincial conference in 1902--the government's flat refusal--differentiation of zemstovo groups--formation of the League of Liberation--its program and tactics..

The list above is only about 1/4 of what Solzhenitsen outlines he will cover in Chapter 7 of the supposed novel.

I simply am not the reader for this book. I am sure there is much to admire in it, especially for a scholar of early twentieth century Russian history, but the book was too much for me. Depending on your interest level it is probably a worthwhile read.

Editat: maig 24, 2011, 2:06 pm

I also read two books about the Vietnam war, one fiction, one nonfiction, and both from the pov of a North Vietnamese soldier:

Novel Without A Name by Duong Thuy Huong and Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram.

The author of the novel about the Vietnam war led a Communist youth brigade to the front when she was 20. Of the group of 40, she was one of three survivors.

The novel is narrated by Quan, who at 28 has been at the front for 10 years. Quan is given leave to return home for a short while, and is also given the task of bringing home news of the death of one of his fellow villagers, a childhood friend. As he walks the hundreds of miles back north, he contemplates his childhood and his time at the front.

When he and his comrades first went to war they were enthusiastic and believed deeply in their cause. They were prepared to do anything to oust the enemy invaders from their homeland. Ten years later Quan has become disillusioned with the corruption of some of the leadership. When he arrives at his village, the village leaders treat him as a hero and want him to give inspirational speeches to the villagers extolling the glory of Vietnam. He wants to find his childhood sweetheart, who had told him that she would wait for him.

This is a memorable book, and should be read by anyone with an interest in the Vietnam war. The descriptions of the life of a Viet Cong soldier were fascinating. Their isolation from their homes and loved ones for so many years (10 years in Quan's case) did not, for the most part, affect their resolve. This book provides an interesting insight into why it was never possible for the US to win this war. Beyond being a novel of the nightmarish conditions of war, it is also a novel of a young man's childhood and individual growth. Quan is a character I came to admire, and who caused me to reflect on the Vietnam war through a different prism.

The nonfiction book I read was Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram. Like The Diary of Ann Frank the back-story of this book is perhaps as interesting as the book itself. Thuy was a young North Vietnamese doctor who went to the front (walking the Ho Chi Minh trail for three months to get there) in 1966. She served in Quang Ngai province, where My Lai is located.

When the diary begins in April, 1968 (previous volumes were lost or destroyed) she was 25 years old and the chief physician at a field clinic that served civilians as well as Viet Cong soldiers. By August, 1967 the district where the hospital was located had become a "free-fire zone" where:

"...people lived in caves or in tunnels that also served as bunkers for the guerillas. Many of the hamlets had been burned or bulldozed to deny the guerillas shelter; the fields were pockmarked with craters and the nearby forests were defoliated." (From the introduction written by Frances Fitzgerald).

Thuy's diary ends abruptly in June 1970, when she was killed by American troops. The diaries were found by an American soldier whose task it was to go through captured documents to see if there was anything of military significance. His interpreter told him not to burn the diary: "It has fire in it already." Against all regulations, the American soldier kept the diary and brought it back home after the war. 35 years later, the soldier found Thuy's surviving family in Hanoi, and returned the diaries to her mother and sisters. The diaries were published in North Vietnam and became a huge bestseller.

The diaries themselves are a combination of the mundane and horrific, naivite and wisdom, innocence and cynicism. While Thuy shouldered huge responsibilities and a leadership role, she was also like Ann Frank, still a young woman with dreams and plans for the future. While her descriptions of the war are not graphic, the war is ever-present--the thunder of the bombers and the scramble to the shelters, interactions with the villagers and feeling their pain when their homes are destroyed, the babies, children and other civilians who were wounded and who she tried to save, the barreness of the exfoliated forests.

It was easy for Thuy to demonize the Americans and those Vietnamese soldiers fighting on behalf of South Vietnam, and some may find this aspect of the book jarring. I nevertheless highly recommend the book. Although it sometimes may seem a little boring or childish it is always compelling. I would also note that it made a very interesting read in conjunction with Novel Without a Name.

Not to ignore the American books on Vietnam, I plan to read Matterhorn soon. I've read and cannot recommend highly enough The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien.

maig 24, 2011, 7:30 am

Deborah, thanks for these great reviews of (mostly) interesting sounding books.

Editat: maig 27, 2011, 10:13 am

these sound like terrific additions to anyone wanting to get a balanced treatment of the Vietnam War. I'll look for them...

I read and liked Matterhorn last summer; my only quibble was that I thought the author tried way too hard to point out the brutality and senselessness of war. That isn't and shouldn't be necessary with that war...

maig 24, 2011, 3:34 pm

Kosovo and Albanian is addressed in Frozen Time by Anna Kim from Ariadne Press. (No touchstone for it). It deals with the work of researchers identifying bodies from the mass graves in the region after the Kosovo War. Doesn't really take a side, instead deals with the aftermath of loss and the emotions of those who are missing loved ones.

maig 24, 2011, 5:22 pm

maig 24, 2011, 10:34 pm

I'm reading a book set against the civil war in Sri Lanka: Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai. So far it's wonderful, and more about the relationships between Sinhalese and Tamils than about actual war. I find all Sri Lankan novels include the war, including Anil's Ghost, by Michael Ondaatje, and Mosquito and Bone China by Roma Tearne. All are great reads.

maig 31, 2011, 7:27 pm

I thought I'd posted to this thread when it began -- well, never too late. I finished The Path to the Spiders' Nests by Italo Calvino. Mine was the revised 1967-1998 edition polished up by Martin McLaughlin. Calvino's long preface was the best part of this brief slice-of-life among Italian partisans during WWII.

--Does the book present the soldier as a hero or as a victim? Mostly as buffoon.
--Is the book an "anti-war" book? Exhibits a "curse-on-both-your houses" neutrality.
--Does the book glorify war? When it comes to uniforms and weapons, yes.
--Does the book make a statement about the myths of war: duty, honor, courage, etc.? The only strong statement concerns the fate of collaborators.
--How does the book convey the horrors of war and its effects on body, mind and soul? It uses domestic scenes such as cooking and taking care of a pet to contrast with the sudden violence of battle.
--Does the book make a statement about man's capacity for evil and/or for violence? Yes; young Pin's ruminations on this subject are a high point in the narrative.

juny 1, 2011, 3:40 pm

This is indeed a superb thread. Thanks to all those who've posted here - what a terrific resource for finding new recommendations (I find on LT I prefer sourcing new reads from focused threads such as this one rather than the unwieldy LT 'recommendations' which I find far too 'automatic' - if that makes any sense....)

I digress.

Just wanted to thank arubabookwoman and Megi53 for your recent posts in particular - #65 & #71 - some excellent looking books there indeed. Thanks.

On the topic of the Vietnam conflict - I just finished Rick Atkinson's superb The Long Gray Line which covers in an extremely moving way the West Point Class of '66 in their journey through the Academy from '62, and on to the mire in Vietnam and the personal struggles that most in that generation found themselves facing in the '70s and '80s. The book has really stayed me. For those interested my review of this book can be found here - http://www.librarything.com/work/339741/reviews/69813242

juny 2, 2011, 12:52 pm

Just finished Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee. Here's my review:

I love the format of Waiting for the Barbarians--the timeless allegory that could take place anywhere. Very few names were used. That sparse style really lends itself to the story, or lesson rather, which is a quite layered and profound story of the cycle of civilizations. That said, I felt the ending fizzled out a bit. I kept thinking more was going to happen than did. Too many holes and unanswered questions. But worth a read and a lot of thinking about the world and its great civilizations.

Comments specific to our Regions in Conflict theme:
I think this book is a great first or last book to read for this theme. It's not about a specific region or conflict, but distills out the essence of the conflict, the inevitability of the cycles of conflict for any civilization. It's terrifying to me to think that every thing great in my world-- all this stuff built up around us-- is impermanent and will eventually end it's cycle and go the way of history and archeology. A worthwhile read, and a quick one. 3.5 stars

juny 4, 2011, 6:42 pm

I am posting my review of Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo here because, although as I note it primarily a mystery/thriller with social/political/religious ambitions, it does portray a region in conflict (due to the "war" between the government and the Shining Path guerrillas that is officially over, although it lives on in various ways). For this theme, I would say it shows how people react to decades of killings on both sides.

I found this book, a police procedural mystery/thriller striving for social, political, and religious significance, frustrating. It tells the story of a low-level, seemingly somewhat dim-witted, prosecutor who has been reassigned at his own request from Lima, where he has lived and worked for many years, to the highland Peruvian town of Ayachuco, where he was born, where he continues to talk to his long-dead mother, and where he is given the case of a particularly brutal murder. Could the Shining Path/Sendero Luminoso have returned just in time for the spectacular Holy Week celebration that brings thousands of tourists from the more sophisticated, whiter coastal regions to this largely indigenous area, bringing in money for the local business owners? Then he finds the police and military are determined to show that Sendero Luminoso is no more, despite evidence to the contrary. They have certainly killed many people; could they be behind this too? The prosecutor, initially interested only in the correct way to file reports, becomes surprisingly more determined to figure out what is really going on, as the murders and the danger mount. Unfortunately, I didn't find his efforts or the mystery that engaging, and the social/political/religious angles, and the historical significance of Ayachuco, which would have been more interesting, seemed (to me, anyway) tacked on and not fully integrated into the novel.

But, perhaps I didn't warm to it because I had read here on LT that the novel treads similar ground to Vargas Llosa's Death in the Andes. Well, yes and no. Both involve a character from the coastal/more sophisticated regions of Peru (a low-level police/military officer in one, a low-level prosecutor in the other) who encounters the local highlands population and mysterious goings-on, possibly related to the Shining Path. But there the comparison ends. Roncagliolo's efforts are simply no match for he complexity, imagination, fun, creepiness, and great writing of Vargas Llosa.

juny 5, 2011, 12:07 am

I read The Sea and Poison by Shusaku Endo and found it to be simply excellent!

Endo tackles the difficult prospect of understanding how a group of Japanese doctors went through with performing vivisections on American soldiers. Based on a true account, this book is so full of moral complexities and intrigue that it's very hard to put down.

This book could have been written in any number of ways but the way Endo presents it is just wonderful. It begins with a prologue, a man in a barren outskirt of Tokyo looking for treatment at the office of a Dr. Suguro, a quiet solemn man, too advanced in his craft to be a simple village doctor. After some probing we learn that Suguro was one of the doctors who took part in the vivisections and we were are then thrown into Suguro's life. But we do not stay on Suguro; we follow other participants in the vivisections and see how they got to become active members of what seems to be an easy moral decision not to participate.

This book is like walking through the atomic bomb museum in Hiroshima. As a whole, we understand what happened, why it happened and the aftereffects of the bomb that fell. But no matter how much we study, how much we read, we will never be able to fully place ourselves within the mindsets of those who were in the immediate vicinity of that bomb. So like the museum, we walk from artifact to artifact, reading snippets of the lives of the victims; those that died and those that survived. From the pieces of glass melted by radiation to the little lunchbox still containing its scorched rice ball, to the official documents warning against the bomb, to photos of the actual damage. We read, we look, we feel, but nevertheless we will never comprehend the decision to drop the bomb. We will never get the full story.

Was it worth dropping the bomb on innocent civilians to save Japan and the US from further casualties if the war were to continue? As we ask that question, we can only ask the doctors whether it was worth the sacrifice of a few American soldiers to further the medical understanding of the human body.

And with this in mind the characters are introduced to us, characters with no sense of remorse, with no ability to feel anymore, except for the sole Dr. Suguro who cannot help but question how his colleagues have developed such an inability to feel. Is Japanese culture so homogeneous in its thought that no one even dares question something as seemingly inhumane as a vivisection?

All in all, a fantastic insight onto the moral complexities of five very interesting characters and the hospital that houses them.

And as for those who have previously thought that this work wasn't to point because it was one of Endo's earlier works, I ask them to reconsider. Read the book and imagine the other ways it could have been written. Should it all have been told via the original 3rd person outsider; should it have been told via just Suguro's perspective; should it have been 5 separate accounts of the five primary characters? There are so many ways to tell the story and I believe Endo did it just right.

Summary specific to this thread:

Overall the book isn't necessarily anti or pro-war but it does put into question the human's sense of morality, whether brought on by war or any other sort of hardship. Many of the characters already had lost a sense of remorse and sentimentality pre-war simply due to their ways of growing up or perhaps due to a past accident. The main character, Suguro, the only one who seems to feel anymore, backed up by Endo's Catholic background, is definitely quick to wonder to what extent a man can lose his moral capacity to commit what seems like an obviously atrocious deed.

Interesting read and highly recommended.

juny 5, 2011, 10:17 pm

I'm currently reading Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes about a company of Marines fighting the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese in 1969 in the jungles of South Vietnam. It's been a riveting read so far and I've spent some time googling Karl Marlantes to get some background on the book. Marlantes is a decorated Vietnam veteran and the book is based on his experiences. I thought I'd share this piece that Marlantes wrote for Publisher’s Weekly in January 2010. The title is “Why I Write."
Having read a galley of my novel, Matterhorn, about Marines in Vietnam, a somewhat embarrassed woman came up to me and said, “I didn’t even know you guys slept outside.” She was college educated and had been an active protester against the war. I felt that my novel had built a small bridge.

The chasm that small bridge crossed is still wide and deep in this country. I remember being in uniform in early 1970, delivering a document to the White House, when I was accosted by a group of students waving Vietcong and North Vietnamese flags. They shouted obscenities and jeered at me. I could only stand there stunned, thinking of my dead and maimed friends, wanting desperately to tell these students that my friends and I were just like them: their age, even younger, with the same feelings, yearnings, and passions. Later, I quite fell for a girl who was doing her master’s thesis on D. H. Lawrence. Late one night we were sitting on the stairs to her apartment and I told her that I’d been a Marine in Vietnam. “They’re the worst,” she cried, and ran up the stairs, leaving me standing there in bewilderment.

After the war, I worked as a business consultant to international energy companies to support a family, eventually being blessed with five children. I began writing Matterhorn in 1975 and for more than 30 years, I kept working on my novel in my spare time, unable to get an agent or publisher to even read the manuscript. Certainly, writing the novel was a way of dealing with the wounds of combat, but why would I subject myself to the further wounds all writers receive trying to get published? I think it’s because I’ve wanted to reach out to those people on the other side of the chasm who delivered the wound of misunderstanding. I wanted to be understood.

Ultimately, the only way we’re ever going to bridge the chasms that divide us is by transcending our limited viewpoints. My realization of this came many years ago reading Eudora Welty’s great novel Delta Wedding. I experienced what it would be like to be a married woman on a Mississippi Delta plantation who was responsible for orchestrating one of the great symbols of community and love. I entered her world and expanded beyond my own skin and became a bigger person.

I was given the ability to create stories and characters. That’s my part of the long chain of writers, publishers, agents, booksellers, librarians, and a host of others who eventually deliver literature to the world. I want to do for others what Eudora Welty did for me.

juny 6, 2011, 8:54 am

That is very moving, Pat, and the book sounds like one I should probably read, especially since I was a teenaged antiwar protester back then (although I certainly never would have done what the students he encountered back then did).

juny 7, 2011, 7:08 pm

#77 Rebecca, I was also a teenager during the later years of the Vietnam War and was certainly against it but never participated in any protests. It's so hard to remember exactly how I felt then. It was such a divisive time. I just don't remember anyone I knew hating the soldiers and it was disturbing to read Marlantes' experience with the protesters. I think you'd like the book. It really makes you feel like you're living the experience of being in the war (which can be good and bad at times). I'm almost up to page 400 of 598 and I'll be interested to see if it ends in Vietnam or when the main character comes back home.

Editat: juny 14, 2011, 12:25 pm

I have worked with combat vets for many years. The Vietnam War was a time of great political divide in the US and many soldiers returned feeling unwelcomed which only compounded their own personal traumas and readjustments. Returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are somewhat more welcomed but face many of the same issues. They and their families suffer sacrifices that are hard to recover from.

regarding the Vietnam War a most realistic book is :
The End of the Line by Robert Pisor, this book was initially recommended to me by a US Marine who was at Khe Sanh and told me "this how it really was there".

Editat: juny 14, 2011, 12:20 pm


What is the What by Dave Eggers is a heartfelt and true tale of the lost boys of Sudan.

I have shared this book with my 23 year old son and it is making the rounds amongst all his friends.

Will provide much insight into this war torn area and the impact on the peole who live there. It is also a testament that young adults respond to the story that is told.

juny 9, 2011, 12:16 pm

>80 berthirsch: I second Bert's recommendation of What Is the What.

juny 9, 2011, 1:07 pm

#79/80/81 Bert, thanks for the recommendation for The End of the Line. My library had it so I put it on hold.

I'll also check out What is the What since you and Darryl both think so highly of it. The only thing I've tried to read by Eggers was Zeitoun and for some reason, about halfway through, I lost interest in it and never finished it.

juny 10, 2011, 8:34 am

along the lines of Dave Eggers What is the What; A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah is a powerful story of the journey of a boy from war-torn Sierra Leone to telling his story in front of the United Nations in New York. A very moving story...

juny 12, 2011, 10:52 am

I know I'm late to the party but I just finished Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front and earlier this year I read Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth. Both books explored the horrors of WWI from different points of view. Remarque's book is told by Paul, a young German soldier and Brittain's book tells, of course, her own experience as she works as a volunteer nurse while her male friends serve with the British Army. Here's my review:

“Bombardment, barrage, curtain-fire, mines, gas, tanks, machine-guns, hand-grenades---words, words, but they hold the horror of the world.
Our faces are encrusted, our thoughts are devastated, we are weary to death; when the attack comes we shall have to strike many men with our fists to waken them and make them come with us---our eyes are burnt, our hands are torn, our knees bleed, our elbows are raw.” (Page 116)

Some books write their own reviews. This is one of them. This classic WWI story, told from the point of view of a young German soldier named Paul, tells the heartbreaking story of one man’s experience on the front. Raw, emotional, and heartbreaking, it’s quite possibly the best war story I’ve ever read. Quotable passages can be found on every page as the young soldier relates the grisliness of combat. Remarque chose to use static, short sentences to tell the story that is almost poetic in this brief novel. A somewhat autobiographical novel, he concentrated on the horrors of war and the soldier’s alienation from civilians in the book. When he gets a chance to go home on leave he writes:

“What is leave?----A pause that only makes everything after it so much worse. Already the sense of parting begins to intrude itself. My mother watches me silently;----I know she counts the days;----every morning she is sad. It is one day less. She has put away my pack, she does not want to be reminded by it.” (Page 155)

The stress and revulsion of being left in No Man’s Land with the first enemy that he has killed in hand-to-hand combat is almost too much for him:

“By noon I am groping on the outer limits of reason. Hunger devours me, I could almost weep for something to eat, I cannot struggle against it. Again and again I fetch water for the dying man and drink some myself.
This is the first time I have killed with my hands, whom I can see close at hand, whose death is my doing…But every gasp lays my heart bare. This dying man has time with him, he has an invisible dagger with which he stabs me: Time and my thoughts.” (Page 189)

It is this agonizing thought process as he is at the front that makes this book so heartbreaking. It could only have been written by someone who had experienced war firsthand.

I continually found myself comparing this book with Vera Brittain’s autobiography, Testament of Youth, which I read earlier this year, and which searingly told the story of WWI from a Brit’s point of view. The soldiers in both books experienced the same horror. And both books showed the folly of war and why we should avoid it at all costs. Both are books about peace by demonstrating what makes war so horrifying. Very highly recommended

juny 13, 2011, 1:39 pm

Israel/Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict:

Just embarking on the superb Israeli historian Tom Segev's 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East. Just flicking through it at the start, it looks every bit as good as his excellent pre-1948 history One Palestine Complete which I highly recommend for anyone looking for an objective analysis of the period of turmoil in Palestine under British rule (1918-1948).

juny 14, 2011, 12:20 pm


funny i had the same experience with Zeitoun but What... really holds up till the end.

Editat: set. 17, 2011, 4:04 pm

A Grain of Wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

"Uhuru" means "freedom" in Swahili and, as this book starts, Uhuru, Kenya's day of independence from British colonial rule, is four days away. In a village in the Kenyan highlands, and in a neighboring small town, people prepare for the great day while several characters reflect on and converse about their experiences during the Emergency, the struggle for freedom that the British savagely attempted to put down and called the Mau Mau uprising. This is a novel about the aftermath of war and colonial rule.

Ngũgĩ explores the choices people make in times of conflict and, above all, betrayal -- personal, political, romantic, sexual. He is a wonderful story-teller, creating vivid, troubled characters, dramatizing the brutality and horror of the Emergency (imprisonment, torture, murder, destruction of villages) as well as the nature of life in a small village, and bringing excitement and suspense to the novel. This is all done so well that the small amount of history review and politics didn't bother me. It is an early work of Ngũgĩ's, but much more complex and interesting than his earlier The River Between.

juny 19, 2011, 4:56 pm

I recently complete Homage to Catalonia. I admire Orwell's journalism and his approach to getting the real story; Homage to Catalonia is a perfect example. I found the story of the trenches and the Barcelona uprising fairly interesting and well-written. His political analysis is extremely complex and gets bogged down in details and acronyms that aren't entirely relevant to today's reader's understanding of the situation. That said, I did find his views on how journalism and the global media forces influenced the war to be insightful and very relevant. Media has changed quite a bit-- not for the better in many cases. This books makes for interesting fodder to compare and contrast and pros and cons of different forms of media and regulatory models. HtC is an important book and worthy of study, but not an enjoyable read in my opinion. 3.5 stars.

As a read for Regions in Conflict, Homage to Catalonia is perfect. I think it really drives home the futility, lack of understanding, and waste of (many) violent conflicts.

juny 19, 2011, 5:16 pm

Just finished The Old Gringo by Carlos Fuentes.

Wow! I loved this book. Fuentes' writing is amazing: dreamy, brutally honest, sensual. A sample:
"But she would sleep again, she would dream again" dream's interruption of the minute hand that daily grinds away true internal time in the mill of activity merely emphasizes, and intensifies, the world of the eternal instant that would return by night, while she slept and dreamed alone."

I expected the story to be more about the Revolution and Ambrose Bierce than it was. Instead I found a romance, an exploration of loss and pain, reconciliation with the past, and a tale of loneliness and humanity. I got a general sense that at least metaphorically it was also about relations between Mexico and the United States, but I don't think it really sank in for me. 4.5 stars.

I am looking forward to more of Fuentes' works. He is one of my new favorite writers.

Editat: juny 22, 2011, 7:42 pm

I've read several JYA/YA books about war in the last couple of weeks, all by Michael Morpurgo.

Waiting for Anya is set in a French village in the mountains near Spain where a young boy comes to meet a Jew and learn about Jewish children fleeing Hitler. It was a good age-appropriate way of showing children about the war and those who fought so hard to save some of the Jews.

Shadow (wrong touchstone) is a new book about a young afghan boy who is adopted by an English Springer Spaniel and who, with his mother, flees the Taliban. It was a bit predictable, but quite good in showing how the Taliban have absorbed the daily lives of those in their areas and how difficult life in a new country can be, especially in trying to navigate or circumvent their laws.

War Horse is set during World War I and is told from the POV of a horse which goes from an English farm to France as a cavalry horse and from there to ambulance horse and, eventually, pulling artillery. It shows the awful conditions that the soldiers on both sides had to endure.

All the books had a definite anti-war theme, but were realistic without being bloody or gory.

I'm looking forward in July to beginning the next quarterly reading challenge, which I believe is The Sea.

juny 25, 2011, 12:18 pm

I've just finished Rutu Modan's Exit Wounds, a beautiful and moving graphic novel set in and around Tel Aviv. It's not about the conflict between Israel and Palestine as such, but the events in the narrative are closely wound up with it: the two protagonists meet because one believes the other's father was killed in a suicide attack.

It's partially interesting because it examines some of the effects of such a conflict: the fact that a loved one might die and leave no trace, and how that might change one's perception of them. The conflict, in some ways, enables both the protagonists to deceive themselves, but this ultimately pushes them to greater self-understanding.

There's very little examination of the rights or wrongs of the conflict in Israel/Palestine in Exit Wounds, which I actually appreciated. There is certainly a sense of the stupidity of the loss of life associated with the war, and Exit Wounds was a brilliant exploration of the lives of its protagonists, set against the backdrop of this ongoing struggle.

juny 25, 2011, 3:35 pm

I'l add two titles to the list here.

Three day road by Joseph Boyden is both of physical journeys and interior ones. It is in part the story of Elijah and Xavier, two Ojibwe/Cree Canadian soldiers during World War I.

This book reminded me in some ways of All quiet on the western front - the depiction of the trenches, the decimation (what word is worse than decimation?) of the troops, the effect the constant fighting has emotionally, and most sneakily, the effect that hunting people has on these two young men, valued for their sharpshooting skills.

Oil on water by Helon Habilla is set in Nigeria. (I read an ARC copy.) The conflict here is not an open war. The parties are the physical land/water/oil resources, the people who live there, the company that wants to extract and use/sell the oil among others. And I'm out of time on the computer. More late rmaybe?

juny 25, 2011, 8:18 pm

SInce I can' seem to edit, here is my revise comment on Oil on water.

The conflict in Oil on water is not an open war. The parties are the physical land/water/oil resources in the Nigerian delta, the people who live there, and the company that is extracting and selling theoil. Rufus, a young naieve Nigerian reporte, narrates the story. He has been selected (along with a more experienced reporter,Zaq) to travel to where the wife of an English oil exexutive is being held hostage. Rufus' task is to report on her safety & the demands of the guerillas who have kidnapped her. IIt is expected that her release will eventually be negotiate in exchange for a sum of money to keep the guerillas going (and that Rufus' status as a reporter will be enhanced by his participation.) What actually happens is more complicated, as Rufus & Zaq are drawn further into the delta and away from the "straightforward" truths of the developed world into the complex and shifting reality of the oil & warer filled delta.

juny 29, 2011, 1:30 am

I just finished Remembering Babylon by David Malouf. This is a great read for Regions in Conflict and I highly recommend it in general. It's brilliant. Here's my review:

I found this book to be enjoyable, interesting, and meaningful-- a trifecta! Malouf's writing style is straightforward and uncomplicated (except for the Scotch-Aussie dialect which was really fun to read.) The story itself is just perfect. Every character is tenderly rendered and so human, so vulnerable. The interactions between the characters, though subtle, reveal so much about interpersonal politics that is timeless and universal. It's so true it maddening.

The story of Gemmy is one of xenophobia, language and cultural barriers, Colonial mindset of natural superiority, and the loneliness of being an outsider. Some of my favorite passages:

"...yet when, as sometime happened, he fell back on the native word, the only one that could express it, their eyes went hard, as if the mere existence of a language they did not know was a provocation, a way of making them helpless."

"Slipping out into the dark he would track night-scented flowers in the summer woods, or with breathing suspended and his whole body alert, observe from a hide, in the soft night air and a liquid light with its own colours, the life of creatures that were abroad, as he was, while the human world slept. That was the joy of the thing. While the eyes of others were closed...to look in on a part of creation that is secret, but only because it lives in a different time zone from that of men."

I just found something to like or at least empathize with in every character (except Sir George perhaps). The ending was even pretty satisfying and the fence imagery from the beginning was perfectly woven through to the end. This is a fantastic book that can really open ones eyes to the ridiculousness of some darker aspects of human nature. Everyone should read this book. 5 stars

juny 30, 2011, 8:55 pm

I read The Book Thief for this theme and felt like it lived up to the hype. I have been accidentally reading a lot of fiction based around World War II the last 2 years and this is the first book in that time I've read from a German's perspective. The countries covered in the other stories were China, Japan, Singapore, and America.

The story is not told from the soldier's perspective. Instead Death tells us the story of an orphan girl living with a foster family that quietly opposes Hitler. Quietly they hide something in their basement. Quietly the Book Thief steals her treasures.

The book's emphasis is not pro-war or anti-war, but on the incredible power of words. Words are the enemy so we burn books. Words are what give Hitler his power.

This book is horrifically wonderful and horribly moving.

jul. 1, 2011, 8:16 am

95 yes! Finally someone who 'gets' the story... I've seen too many negative reviews of The Book Thief, which I absolutely loved. Thank you for your review.

jul. 1, 2011, 11:59 am

Re Oil on Water, another book set in the same region on similar issues (although written much earlier) is Tides! (wrong touchstone) by Isidore Okpewho. The conflict in Tides is between the native fishermen in the Nigerian delta whose livlihoods (and environment) are being destroyed by oil drilling and the multinational oil companies and the corrupt government.

jul. 1, 2011, 12:03 pm

As we've reached the end date for this topic, I'd like to thank everyone who participated and contributed. It's been very informative, and I have lots of new books on my wishlist.

Even though the time has "officially" ended, I hope people will continue to post and comment on this thread as long as they read books on this subject.

jul. 1, 2011, 12:31 pm

Thanks, Deborah and Darryl, for organizing and hosting this theme read. I for one have several books that fit this theme on my mental "TBR soon" list, and I know I will continue to read books on it because of my predilection for grim reads! And some of the ones I'll be reading are ones that were reviewed here. So I second Deborah's hope that people will continue to post and comment on this thread; both it and our earlier Journeys theme read will continue to be linked to from the Reading Globally home page. See you here -- and on The Sea!

jul. 1, 2011, 6:12 pm

Thank you for organizing this thread


thank you to everyone who contributed to this thread. It has been the most interesting thread I've followed on LT these past months!

jul. 2, 2011, 7:47 am

Thank you all for posting on this thread - I've found some real gems here thanks to all your good recommendations.

jul. 2, 2011, 5:28 pm

I agree with Deborah; even though we've reached the end of the quarter, I would encourage everyone to continue to post their reviews to this thread for the foreseeable future.

jul. 2, 2011, 11:27 pm

I will definitely be keeping this thread starred. Deborah and Darryl, you both did a great job setting it up. So much useful information. I'll be referring to it often.

jul. 5, 2011, 6:40 pm


The Sea and Poison by Shusaku Endo

This stunning, disturbing and deeply moving novel about the actions of Japanese doctors in a hospital during World War II opens in postwar Japan, in a small town that has been battered and demoralized after the country's defeat. A ordinary man infected with pulmonary tuberculosis who has recently moved to town seeks out the local physician for care, and he meets Dr Suguro, a withdrawn and defeated man who provides him with the treatment he needs, but nothing more. The narrator later meets another physician who trained at the same hospital in Fukuoka as Suguro did, and learns that Suguro was imprisoned for taking part in an experimental operation on a lightly injured American airman.

The first person narration then shifts to third person accounts of Suguro, a medical intern at the time of the airman's vivisection, along with those of Toda, another intern who is more urbane and comes from a wealthy family, but lacks the moral scruples of his colleague, and a nurse who formerly worked at the hospital but has returned in disgrace after her husband has left her for another woman. The three, along with the power hungry and uncaring supervising physicians, care for patients afflicted with TB who are treated worse than animals, particularly those who are welfare cases and cannot afford to pay for their care. The doctors view these patients' lives as hopeless and unworthy, whose only value is to serve to advance medical science, even if it means they must die premature and pain filled deaths.

After an unfortunate accident, Suguro and Toda are "invited" to participate in the operation on the downed airman. Toda readily agrees, knowing that his participation will advance his career. Suguro initially agrees, but experiences deep moral conflict once he learns of the nature and brutality of the operation. The nurse does not attend the surgery, but becomes aware of the nature of the operation and the effort by the doctors and head nurse to cover up both the operation on the soldier and the earlier accident.

The Sea and Poison, the winner of the 1958 Akutagawa Prize which was later made into an award winning movie, is a powerful tale of man's inhumanity to man, and the role that societal and peer pressure play in causing decent human beings to commit immoral acts toward those in their care or under their power. Based on a real story, it served as one of the first novels that openly criticized acts committed by Japan in wartime against its citizens, enemies and prisoners of war, and brought to light some of the atrocities that the world would learn about in later years. Highly recommended; thanks to lilisin for bringing this book to my attention!

jul. 6, 2011, 10:51 am

I read Waiting: A Novel of Uganda's Hidden War by Goretti Kyomuhendo back in June. I am slow to get back here.

"At a mere 111 pages, Waiting by Ugandan writer Goretti Kyomuhendo is small gem of a novel, a portrait of an ordinary village family during the retreat and rampage of Idi Amin’s soldiers through the country in the late 1970s. We are brought into story during a family meal by the gentle and steady voice of thirteen year old Alinda. It is through her we see the emotional and physical consequences of war as they and their friends and neighbors struggle to maintain a sense of normalcy throughout."

Excerpt from forthcoming review in Belletrista, will link when issue is up later this week.
As for some of the questions:

--Does the book present the soldier as a hero or as a victim? There are several viewpoints of soldiers in the book. The Uganda forces of Idi Amin, who are retreating north through the country, murdering and pillaging as they go, are, of course, not cast in a favorable light. The "liberators" are seen in a more positive light, though clearly the villagers are tired and wary of any uniform.

--Is the book an "anti-war" book? I suppose any book focusing on the victims of a conflict could be considered anti-war

--Does the book glorify war? No, not at all.

--Does the book make a statement about the myths of war: duty, honor, courage, etc.? No, not at all

--How does the book convey the horrors of war and its effects on body, mind and soul? In this book they are survived a prolonged "ending" to a war. The book effectively shows the day to day fear the family must live with, and the sort of everyday courage to keep on going, trying to make life as normal as possible.

--Does the book make a statement about man's capacity for evil and/or for violence? No, it makes a statement about the tenacity of the human spirit.

--If you have read books from more than one country, are there differences in the way the subject is treated? Although I have read many books that deal with war, this is notable because it is told from the viewpoint of a woman, a 13 year old girl in this case. Though not as intense as Children of the New World or Half of a Yellow Sun, it is a worthy compliment.

jul. 6, 2011, 11:07 am

Interesting, Lois. Thanks for pointing out Waiting: a Novel of Uganda's Hidden War. Nina has a friend at school from Uganda so this might be a good mom-daughter read.

jul. 29, 2011, 10:47 am

I've just finished Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes. Over the years, I've read many books about war, both fiction and nonfiction, and some of them remain among my favorite books: War and Peace, Life and Fate, The Guns of August, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, for example. But this is the first book I've read that made me feel I was trudging along with the soldier on the ground (or, in this case, the Marine), in his muddy boots, with feet eaten up by jungle rot, without enough food or water, on and on through the buffalo grass, up the ridges, down into the valleys, with fear if not downright terror in every step.

But the book is so much more than a vivid description of the horrific reality of jungle warfare. Despite the dozens of characters, Marlantes brings several key ones to life, fears, flaws, nobility, and all, and allows them to develop and grow as the novel proceeds. He dramatically illustrates the lunacy of ordering missions that will look better to the powers-that-be in Washington and to the media, rather than ones that might achieve a military objective (whatever that might be in the context of the Vietnam war), including the variety of ways in which higher-up officers in the field, many with experience in Korea or even World War II, react to these pressures. He portrays the proud heritage of the Marine Corps, and how it does or doesn't play out in the mud and jungle of Vietnam. He doesn't shy away from showing the racial and class divides that were as prevalent in the armed forces as they were back at home, or the practice of fragging (killing officers). Perhaps most compellingly, he shows men fearing death, watching their friends die, and wondering about what it means to kill. This is a very rich, complex novel.

Thanks to Lisa/labsf39, I learned that Marlantes was using the Parzifal myth to structure the novel. I read up on Parzifal and that definitely helped me understand some of the plot developments, as well as the theme of the growth of the warrior into manhood. I think I would have enjoyed reading the book almost as much without knowing this, but it definitely added to my appreciation.

jul. 29, 2011, 3:16 pm

>106 Nickelini: Will send it to you.

Editat: jul. 31, 2011, 6:13 pm

I finally completed At Dawn We Slept, Gordon Prange's detailed history of the planning for, execution of, and aftermath of Pearl Harbor. It was certainly a worthy read, but while reading other things, it took me two months to finish it. I think I'll read shorter things for the remainder of 2011.

set. 17, 2011, 1:13 pm

I just started Stephen Ambrose's D-Day. Obviously, I'm not sticking to my promise of reading shorter things, but it is already very interesting.

gen. 11, 2014, 6:19 am

1914: A Novel by Jean Echenoz

The latest novel by Echenoz opens in the Vendée region of France, as a lazy and quiet Saturday afternoon in August 1914 is interrupted by the insistent pealing of church bells throughout the region, which signals a call for mobilization for the impending war against Germany. The novel focuses on five ordinary men in one village, and a young woman who loves one man and is fond of another. The men and their commanding officers are convinced that the combat will last no longer than a few weeks, and that all will return home safely. However, as weeks turn into months and months into years, and as the soldiers see their companions felled in action, they are transformed into dispirited men who rely on alcohol to dull their senses. Echenoz writes poignantly about their seemingly hopeless circumstances:

Well, you don't get out of this war like that. It's simple: you're trapped. The enemy is in front of you, the rats and lice are with you, and behind you are the gendarmes. Since the only solution is to become an invalid, you're reduced to waiting for that “good wound”, the one you wind up longing for, your guaranteed ticket home, but there's a problem: it doesn't depend on you. So that wonder-working wound, some men tried to acquire it on their own without attracting too much attention by shooting themselves in the hand, for example, but they usually failed and were confronted with their misdeed, tried, and shot for treason. Mowed down by your own side rather than asphyxiated, burned to a crisp, or shredded by gas, flamethrowers, or shells—that could be a choice. But there was also blowing your own head off, with a toe on the trigger and the rifle barrel in your mouth, a way of getting out like any other—that could be a choice too.

The lives of the five men are all irrevocably altered by the war, in different ways. However, Echenoz shows us that the trauma of war is not limited to those who have experienced combat, or have had their homes or livelihoods taken away from them. Many seem to lose their basic sense of humanity by taking advantage of their countrymen in battle, overcharging them for food or drink as they march through villages, or supplying them with overpriced, shoddily made equipment.

1914 is a quiet and elegantly written novella about the effects of The Great War on a group of ordinary men and citizens of a small French town, whose power comes not from grisly descriptions of combat, but in the benumbed despair that afflicts everyone in its midst. The book is greatly enhanced by notes from the book's translator, Linda Coverdale. Although this book doesn't match my favorite ones by Echenoz, it was still a very enjoyable read.

feb. 9, 2019, 1:09 pm

I finished the astounding, if occasionally densely packed novel Milkman by Anna Burns. This is evidently one of those "loved it" or "hated it" books. I can see why that would be. Personally, I consider it awe inspiring and revelatory, if not always pleasant to read. Imagine an 18-year old girl is being harassed by a man of power more than twice her age, and that she has nobody who will believe her. Mix that into the realities of living in an insular, violent, repressive community in Northern Ireland during the troubles. There are, for me, very powerful insights woven into this book, despite (or maybe because of) a claustrophobic quality produced by stripping every character of a name and providing generic references only (first sister, maybe-boyfriend, second brother-in-law), etc. You can find my more in-depth (or at least longer!) comments on the book's work page and on my 50-Book Challenge thread.

set. 6, 12:18 pm

I finished the very good novel Ghost Season by Fatin Abbas, a writer who was born in Sudan and grew up in the U.S. The novel is about Saraaya, a small town in the middle of Sudan, more or less on the front line between the two sides of the country's intermittent but long lasting civil war that ended up splitting the country in two. We see the town, and fear the possibility of coming conflict, through the eyes of five disperate but intertwined characters. Alex, a young American NGO employee has come to the village with the assignment to create updated maps of the area, which haven't been revised since before the English colonizers left the area. The job is almost impossible, however, as the topography of the region changes with the seasons--rainy and dry--and global warming has wrecked havoc with even these haphazard patterns. Living with him in his small compound are Dana, a young Sudanese-American filmmaker trying to document the lives of the villagers while she simultaneously perfects her craft, William, a Nilot who is hired as Alex's translator, Layla, a young nomad woman who works as cook, and Mustafa, a 12-year-old dynamo who is William's gofer and all-round helper who dreams of escape to the national capital, Khartoum. We see the impending peril through the eyes of these five characters, with their varied perspectives, hopes and troubles. Abbas' powers of observation and description are acute. Her sentence- and paragraph-level writing are gorgeous. Her characters are believable, as are their interactions with each other. So even while the plotting is somewhat slow in the first half, the book was still enjoyable for me. In the meantime, the descriptions of the village, the lifestyle and concerns of its people, the historical and environmental forces that have shaped it all are nothing short of admirable. So I very much recommend the book.