World War I -- fiction
2017 falls during the 100th anniversary of World War I, and The Summer Before the War is the perfect novel to remind us of the world-changing conflict’s impact. In the novel, England is in the midst of fighting the Great War. For the small town of Rye in Sussex, all of the moral complexities of that war are realized. Helen Simonson is a master of gentle and sometimes fierce satire in this comedy of manners, as she was in her first novel, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.
The first three parts of The Summer Before the War have a lighter tone as the characters are gently satirized for their foibles. There is nostalgia for the Edwardian innocence still left in the town of Rye, but cruel prejudice and gossip also reside in the town. All the characters seem like good people, but Helen Simonson cleverly reveals their flaws. Beatrice Nash enters the scene as the first female Latin “master” for the local grammar school. Beatrice has recently lost her father, whom she idolized, but she will not bow to the dictates and restrictions of how her family and society want her to lead her life, so she must earn her way.
Maisie Dobbs. Perhaps it’s not a fascinating name, but it –is- the name of a fascinating woman. Born to a poor but loving family, thirteen-year-old Maisie goes into service in a grand London house. How very fortunate for her that it is the home of a clever and bored lady bountiful.
For those of us who enjoy reading murder mysteries in a historical setting, a series written by Charles Todd is the perfect match. In the first book, A Test of Wills, we meet Ian Rutledge, who is returning to Scotland Yard for the first time after spending four years at the front and several months in a hospital for shell shock. Before the war, Rutledge had been a gifted and up-and-coming inspector with a flair for solving murder cases. Now, he often hears the voice of Hamish MacLeod, one of his men who died in the trenches of France. Hamish sarcastically comments on everything Rutledge is doing from a point behind his shoulder. Rutledge doesn’t dare turn around for fear of seeing Hamish in the flesh.
Even before World War I became such a popular topic for books, movies, and articles, I was reading and watching anything on the subject I could get my hands on. World War I has always fascinated me since it set many of the events of the 20th century in motion. It was known as The Great War or The War to End All Wars because it had been so horrifying.
There are all kinds of angels. There are the sort that make grand pronouncements from God—bright, shining beings that are meant to be obeyed. They usually say their piece, and then they’re gone, leaving humans to make the best they can of the situation. That wasn’t the kind of angel that followed Henry Bright home from the Great War. No. This was the kind of angel who hung around and made suggestions, pretty much constantly.
Newbery Medal-winning author Meindert DeJong (pronounced De-Young) immigrated to the United States with his family as a young boy. The family came to America so that his older brothers would not be drafted to fight in World War I. The DeJong family had a difficult time in their new country. The family was poor, and the children were sent to a private, religious school where the children were bullied for being immigrants. Meindert DeJong never forgot the experience of being a lonely child, and he wove that perspective into many of his books.