Over there and back again

For this significant anniversary, choose when you wish to observe it.  (Don’t try this at home; a wedding date is a wedding date.)

With World War I’s centenary, the approach makes sense.  Nations entered into the conflict over time, and some locales are noted for one definitive event.  The city of Sarajevo plans its commemoration for June 21-28, 2014.  France anticipated the generally agreed-upon remembrance dates of 2014-2018 by opening a new World War I museum in 2011.  Turkey’s “Anzac Day” event–April 25, 2015–will mark 100 years since Gallipoli.

Check the Centennial Commemoration of the United States in World War I website, and you’ll find notes about the organization but no events yet (U.S. declared war in April 1917.)

Publishers mobilized their forces in advance to equip us with insightful reads.  Classics like Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August and Eric Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front are being reissued.  Margaret McMillan’s The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 appears on several recommended reading lists.

Librarian Chris, who selects  RRPL’s nonfiction history resources, suggests these recent library acquisitions:  The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in1914 by Christopher Clark; Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson; Catastrophe 1914:  Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings; The Great War: A Photographic Narrative by Mark Holborn and Hilary Roberts;  To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild; and The Last of the Doughboys: the Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War by Richard Rubin.

Among a host of intriguing World War I novels, Jennifer Robson’s Somewhere in France follows a British aristocrat who defies her family to train as an ambulance driver.  P.S. Duffy’s The Cartographer of No Man’s Land considers physical and psychological battles through the eyes of a sensitive Nova Scotia boat captain/artist.  Anita Shreve’s Stella Bain also portrays a female ambulance driver whose case of what we would now label Post Traumatic Stress Disorder evokes the war’s aftermath–horribly mutilated survivors, long-term care veteran care, early studies of “shell shock”.

Sir Michael Howard observes, “…arguably, the Great War was one of the greatest tragedies of all of them because it was so inconclusive.”  While much of the unfinished business was political, families in all echelons of society faced lifetimes bereft of husbands, fathers, sweethearts, colleagues.  Some of the most affecting Great War fiction considers postwar years 1918 into the next decade.  P.S. Duffy reflects that an understanding of the 1920s requires an appreciation for World War I:  “That hedonistic, devil-may-care, caution to the wind sense all comes from a sense of, “Well, we could all die tomorrow.”  “

Debut novelist Anna Hope’s Wake memorably spans five days in November 1920, ending with the dedication of the Cenotaph and interment of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey.  Three British women unknown to one another mourn a dead son and fiancé and a shattered, mute brother. They are unaware that their lives intersect as the Warrior’s body is collected in France, ceremoniously transported to England, and laid to final rest.

The Twenties represent a tough sort of hopefulness.  Wake invokes a slang term popular among the jazz-loving young adult set; it’s intended as a compliment for anything beautiful, impressive, or admirable:  “Killing!”

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