Books about WWII

July 30, 2016

I don’t know if there are more novels these days set in World War II, or if I just happen to be coming across them more, but I recently finished three of them, each told from a very different perspective.

Liberation Road: A Novel of World War II and the Red Ball Express, by David Robbins, follows the experiences of two American non-combatants from when they come ashore at Omaha Beach. Joe Amos Biggs is an African-American who left college to enlist and who longs to be able to fight alongside the white men. Ben Kahn is a chaplain who had fought in the trenches in World War I, whose son is a B-17 pilot shot down over France and now MIA, and who is motivated by desire for revenge on the Germans. Occasionally there are also passages told from the point of view of “White Dog,” an American pilot shot down over France, who prefers the comfortable life he has found as a black marketeer in occupied Paris to rejoining his comrades in arms.

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Books: Lisette’s List

September 9, 2015

Having enjoyed Susan Vreeland’s novel Clara and Mr. Tiffany, I decided to try another, Lisette’s List. It is interesting for its depiction of life in a rural village in southern France during the 1940’s, but it did not engage me emotionally nearly as much as Clara and Mr. Tiffany did.

I’m not sure how much that is because of the strong emphasis on art. In Clara and Mr. Tiffany, the art of creating masterpieces from pieces of glass was more about the characters and their love of their craft than it was about the art itself. In Lisette’s List, appreciation of art itself is a major theme.

Perhaps I just find it hard to share the extreme devotion Lisette has to painting and everything to do with it. Perhaps it is because the artists featured in this novel are some whose styles I have trouble appreciating.I don’t dislike the Impressionism of Pisarro but I am not as attracted to it as to some of the older styles. I like some of Cézanne’s Post-Impressionist landscapes but I am unmoved by his still lifes. Read the rest of this entry »


Books: An Officer and a Spy

April 25, 2015

I was actually looking for a historical mystery by Tessa Harris, a book which I didn’t find on the library’s shelves because (I figured out later) I had not noticed that the catalog identified it as an ebook. But I quickly realized that the shelf did have several historical novels written by Robert Harris.

After looking at the flap copy (a useful term that has eluded me for some time) of a few of his books, I selected An Officer and a Spy. I vaguely remember learning about the Dreyfus Affair in some history class or other, but all I could remember was that it was a terrible miscarriage of justice. I didn’t remember how it turned out (for Dreyfus himself, though I knew he was shown to be innocent) – which made the novel more suspenseful than books based on history generally manage to be.

Unlike many (probably most) historical novels I have read, the main characters are all real people from history. Rather than using historic events as the backdrop for a fictional story, Harris is telling history from the point of view of one of the participants. Naturally he has to use his imagination to flesh out the character of Colonel Picquart, his thoughts and motivations and details of his daily activities.

I was quickly engrossed in the story. Picquart no doubt has some significant moral shortcomings (a long-time affair with a married woman, as well as prejudice toward Germans and Jews), and this review of the novel asserts that Harris has “mildly sanitised” the character of Picquart. But his dedication to his duty and to the pursuit of truth and justice, despite the dangers to his career and possibly his life, make him a heroic character.

Knowing the end of the story (that Dreyfus would be shown to be innocent), the officers involved in the cover-up seem foolish as well as corrupt. But of course cover-ups are as old as human history, and a quick review of recent history shows that they are as prevalent now as ever. Whether the motivation is preservation of personal power and reputation, or keeping in power a political bloc that one believes is truly better for the country, the same justifying excuses are made for (what is eventually seen as) blatant injustice.

Many years ago, I ended up buying The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus by Jean-Denis Bredin because I had forgotten to respond to a book club’s monthly selection. I decided it was, after all, a book worth having, and intended to read it someday. I never have yet, but perhaps now I will.


Books: Les Misérables

January 17, 2015

One of the books in my want-to-read-someday list has long by Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. I had heard and read about the characters and Javert and Jean Valjean, and the theological lessons about law and grace one could see reflected in their very different lives. I wanted to read it for myself.

But it’s such a very long novel. I wondered how I would ever manage to finish it. Then after having read Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame during Christmas break a year ago, I decided that this winter during Christmas break I would tackle Les Misérables.

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Reading the classics

January 1, 2014

Even before reading Soldier’s Heart (see my previous post), I had been thinking about trying to read some of the classic literature that I never read when I was in school. I read a fair amount that wasn’t for school assignments, but that was mostly when I was still in school (i.e. up through getting my M.A. in Spanish in 1984).

Back then I prided myself on reading mostly the sort of books that would be assigned in school. I’m not sure if I thought that reading them made me a better person, or just that, being the sort of person who enjoyed good literature, I wouldn’t enjoy popular fiction.

Then I tried reading some popular fiction, and discovered that a good deal of it made very enjoyable reading, and that it still dealt with important themes about human life and society. To refuse to read it because it wasn’t considered “literature” seemed an elitist attitude that reflected too much pride in my intellectual abilities.

But now and then, seeing lists of classical literature that I haven’t read (such as the top 100 lists that make their way through facebook now and then), I wonder what I have missed out on. I have always valued education, and tried to keep learning new things.

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Books: The Bookseller

May 11, 2013

I was attracted to this novel largely because of the word “book” in the title. I thought I vaguely remembered having read good reviews of The Bookseller, but I really knew nothing about it except what I could see on the cover. Books are involved somehow, and this is the first book about Hugo Marston, which implies there will be more. Good enough reasons to check it out from the library.

There really is less about books than I might have liked. The books that are discussed are prized more for their value as collectibles (or for other, mysterious reasons that may or may not be connected to a man’s death), rather than for the ideas expressed in them.

But it’s a well-written mystery. I was surprised to learn, after finishing the book, that it was Mark Pryor’s first novel. Hugo Marston is a likeable enough character, though it’s hard to know what to make of his friend Tom.

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