History

War Books

MatterhornMy question of the week - Do women read war novels?  I don't mean to ask this in a polarizing and dramatic way, but out of genuine interest. 

I recently finished the excellent Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes, a novelization about the Vietnam War.  Marlantes is a highly decorated Marine who served in Vietnam and this 600 page book was 30 years in the making.  The book is technical and almost solely set in Vietnam.  There isn't room for families, girlfriends, or real life.  This book is intense - filled with racial tensions, horrifying wounds, tigers, leeches, jungle rot, thirst, hunger, diarrhea, boredom, bad language and inept military structure.  I probably lost some of the technicalities of the military maneuvers, but in the end you really care about the characters.  At times, reading this was stressful but the pain and longing seems universal and touching.  

The Stone Carvers

The Canadian National Vimy Memorial sits on a preserved battlefield in France where the Canadian Expeditionary Force took part in the Battle of Vimy Ridge during World War I.  The huge marble monument took 11 years to build and has giant human sculptures representing sacrifice, mourning, and strength and includes over 11,000 names of Canadian soldiers missing in action.

In Jane Urquhart's novel The Stone Carvers, we meet three fictional people who wind up working on this magnificent monument. Their lives are transformed both by the beauty of art and the horrors of war. 

Klara and Tilman Becker grow up in rural Canada in a German immigrant community at the turn of the century.  Their grandfather is a wood carver with high hopes for Tilman to learn the master craft.  While Tilman has a natural carving ability, he is proves unable to stay on the farm.  Even as early as 12, Tilman must migrate. Nothing his family does can keep him on the farm, not even a chain.

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans

February is National African American History Month, and fittingly, Kadir Nelson's Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans, recently won the American Library Association's 2012 Coretta Scott King Author Award.

A History of the World in 100 Objects

What a cool idea for a book. Telling the history of the world by looking at museum artifacts. To make it even more interesting, these descriptive reports of jewelry, mummies, pottery, coins, art, textiles, etc. were written by experts for radio.  Luckily, for us we get to view the pictures also, hundreds of them.

A History of the World in 100 Objects is no coffee table book but a book to be read end to end. The entries for each of the objects (that range in date from 2,000,000 B.C. to 2010 A.D.) describe not only the artifacts themselves but what they teach us about history and about humanity. For example of silver bowl full of coins from around the year 927--shows that already England was well on its way to becoming a monarchy. Inscribed on one coin is Athelstan Rex totius Britanniae or Athelstan, King of All Britain.  

Other items found in this same buried stash were arm bracelets from Ireland, Viking coins, and others from as far away as Afghanistan. A Viking stash of coins showed that they were becoming Christian--engraved on several was St. Peter's name (Petri), but also inscribed was the hammer from Thor, the old Norse god.

Unpublished

Night Circus Readalikes

Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus tells the story of two competing magicians trying to outdo each other in the creation of an enchanted circus. Whether you've read it and want more of the gothic atmosphere, period charm, and dazzling detail, are on the holds list for it, or just enjoy a bit of whimsy and dark Victorianism, these books should be of interest.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, a tale of the resurgence of English magic in the early 19th century, is just as dense and immersive as the equally thick Night Circus, and like that novel features a period writing style and a fully realized magical world-within-a-world.

The Winter Sea by Susanne Kearsley

The Winter Sea by Susanne Kearsley.

Is genetic memory just a theory or does it actually occur, or maybe the protagonist in this novel just has a really good imagination?
 
American historical novelist, Carrie McClelland journeys to Scotland to research her new book concerning an early planned Jacobite invasion in 1708. Her story and her research focus on Slain's Castle, now open to tourists, which was the center of much of the plotting in 1707 and 08. Carrie is soon dreaming of her ancestors who were involved in the intrigue. Is she channeling her long ago many times over great grandmother, is her new romantic interest also a descendant or is it her writer's imagination at work.

Year of Wonders and Caleb's Crossing

Year of Wonders is a book about the plague, but it is also so much more than that. Anna lives in a small village in England in 1666. She has two small children and a hard working husband. Despite her struggles with her relationship with her father, and a new minister, things are generally going well for Anna. Unfortunately the true history of the village, as discovered by Brooks, creates a tragic backdrop for Anna's fictional life. First, Anna's husband dies in a mining accident, and to help ends meet, Anna takes in a boarder from London. Shortly after this, her boarder suddenly dies, and people in her village begin falling fatally sick. The death of Anna's husband is only the beginning of the upheaval that Anna is to survive. Near the end of the book, everything that she has known was turned up on its head.

Geraldine Brooks came upon a sign at the location of the village and did quite a bit of research to create fictional characters and events. Though all the action takes place in the small quarantined village, the language is lush and the characters vivid.

Next to Love

Babe Huggins is one of those young women (my mother was one also) both lucky and unlucky enough to come of age at the start of World War II. She lives in a small New England town and because the men have left to fight overseas, she scores a department store job, and then later, interesting work at Western Union. She loves being the pulse of news in the town, but a big negative is that she is the first to discover which family has lost a young son or a new spouse.

Next to Love gives a vivid portrait of the war at home in America during WW II as lived by three friends who have known each other since first grade. Both Babe and Millie come from poor families on the wrong side of Sixth Street, whereas Grace's family lives in one of the town's mansions.

The novel chronicles the marriages of each of the three women, and shows how it either destroys or strengthens those unions. At the start of the war, there's one giddy summer when the number or marriages skyrockets--a combination of the men responding to the knowledge of their own mortality and the sheer lust for life-- seize this moment because no one knows how long it will last.

22 Britannia Road

Many novels dwell on the horrors of war, but few deal with the dislocation and tremendous adjustments that occur afterwards. Amanda Hodgkinson's wise debut novel does exactly that for a Polish family separated during World War ll and later reunited in England.

A year before Poland was invaded, Silvana, a movie projectionist, and Janusz, a country boy meet and marry. They have a son Aurek. War comes and Janusz is called to defend his country. Before even reaching his unit, German bombs halt Janusz's train and he is injured during his first battle. He watches as an old woman herding her sheep is shot down.

After the planes disappear, the young Polish soldier decides that he must care for these animals and give this old woman a proper burial. Meanwhile Silvana takes Aurek to the city but as the Germans invade it, she is separated from her son. A woman helps her to reclaim him. Later, a German tries to rape her in an abandoned apartment that she has taken over in search of food and shelter. She and Aurek flee to the woods where they spend the next three or four years.

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