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Posts tagged ‘World War 1’

The End of June

June has finally come to an end and 6 months of 2018 are already over; time does pass, whether we like it or not and I can for sure say for this year, Thank Goodness for that! Monsoons have hit some part of the country and the expectation of rains, definitely makes life more bearable, especially when we remember that, rains will be followed by the glorious Autumn! To summarize, end of June brings much hope and the reading that happened this past month, just added on to the sense of enrichment and sanguine calm, which makes the terrible times pass and help you see through a better tomorrow! So what did I read in June?

White Flock by Anna Akhmatova, Translated by Andrey Kneller

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We thought: we’re poor and don’t have anything,

But as we started to lose one thing after another, 

So much that each day became

A remembrance day, 

We began to write songs

About God’s immense genrosity

And the wealth, we once had.

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittian

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When the sound of victorious guns burst over London at 11 a.m. on November 11th, 1918, the men and women who looked incredulously into each other’s faces did not cry jubilantly: ” We’ve won the war! ” They only said: ” The War is over.”

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

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From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography.”

The Lady of the Basement Flat by Mrs. George de Horne Vaizey

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I have been here a week and am already endorsing the theory that you can never really know a person until you have lived together beneath the same  roof.

Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson

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We all recognize a likeness of Shakespeare the instant we see one, and yet we don’t really know what he looked like. It is like this with nearly every aspect of his life and character: He is at once the best known and least known of figures.

This then was my readings for June and now here’s to a new month and new books!

Losing & Finding During The Great War

Carl Sagan in his essay “The Path to Freedom” co-written with Ann Druyan, said that “Books are key to understanding the world and participating in a democratic society.” If there is book that stands for understanding the world and a democratic society, then it must be Vera Brittian’s Testament of Youth. This book which has been in my TBR list for many years now and was supposed to be my December Read for The Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge 2018; until Jillian came along with her Read Along and her enthusiasm and some amazing pre-challenge activities that tempted me to move this book up in the TBR Challenge pile and start on it on priority!

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Testament of Youth is a memoir of Vera Brittian’s life capturing the years, from 1900 to 1925. Ms. Brittian who would achieve great success with publication of this work, was a nurse, a writer,a lecturer, a pacifist and a feminist and in this book, we get a glimpse of of events and happenings that went into her making of all the above! The book opens with a brief overview of Ms. Brittain’s family history – a well to do, upper middle class family. Her father, a Paper Manufacturer, and her mother a home maker as were most women at that time. Two years after her birth, her brother Edward was born and he would remain her closest companion through the years! The first Chapter captures her growing years and her schooling at St. Monica’s where she was introduced to History, feminism and politics through an energetic teacher. Chapter 2 continues the narrative where Vera describes her “coming out” year and her dissatisfaction with the lot of young women in those days that limited their lives to home and hearth and her battle with her father to go to Oxford University, in an effort to escape such a future and see more of the world. It was during this stage of her life she would meet Roland Leighton, a senior and a close friend of her brother Edward and with whom she would eventually become engaged. Chapter 3 follows Vera’s first year at  Somerville College, Oxford,  studying English Literature as England is drawn into World War 1 and both Edward and Roland and her other close male friends join the army to support the British war effort. As the fighting gets more and more intense and the hope of a quick victory diminishes, Ms. Brittain decides to delay her degree and starts to work as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse. The next few chapters deal with her VAD years, which takes her to Malta and France, her personal struggles and both her own and her peer’s griefs; those who belonged to that “war generation” as they struggle to come to terms with the loss of their youth, idealism and what was supposed to a promising future and finally the deaths of their loved ones! The final chapter of the book, deals with the close of the War, the after effect on the survivors and Ms. Brittian’s evolution as a writer and lecturer, the friendships that helped her heal, her completion of her delayed degree and finally her ability to close the door on the traumatic years and moving on to finding happiness.

There are some very few books in this world, that effortlessly draw you in, force you think and then, challenge you to be a better person. To me, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee was one such book and now Ms. Brittain’s Testament of Youth, joins that rank! Rarely does one come across writing that is strong and fierce and at the same time so poignantly heartbreaking; but Ms. Brittain achieves this feat and more. In some of the most powerful prose ever, the author takes us through some of the most transformative events of her life, from school years, to her college life to her engagement and the war and her final evolution as a Feminist and Writer; we are moved as readers, we are concerned at the well being of all involved in the narrative and when we close the book finally, we know we have an obligation to feel grateful, that our generation was spared of the searing pain and loss that our predecessors went through first 100 and then 80 years ago. In yet another marvelous first for me, this is the only memoir I have read, whose writing carries a “what-happens-next” feeling with the close of each chapter. Despite being relatively verbose, the pace of the books never slacks and the reader never feels bored with the events as they come through, one after the other! The characters are beautifully drawn and brought to life by Ms. Brittain and you cannot help but wish that you had known them in person. They are all realistic and wonderful, portrayed without any rancor, even the German POWs or the more difficult Matrons, and mankind is shown in some of its most minute lights, with all the kindness, joy, brilliance, anger and vulnerabilities! This book has often been described as a War Memoir, but I felt that it was too narrow a definition; for this book is so much more – it is a history of things we must never repeat so that lives are not needlessly lost, it is a history of epoch making events in Women’s Movement, it is a story of love and friendships and finally it is the story, that once again affirms that even in our deepest, darkest, most traumatic moments, we are not alone and what we are going through has already been experienced by someone else and from that experience also comes the final assurance, that things do pass and get better! To end, all I can say, is that this book makes us attempt to be more more humane and to read it, is critical in our evolution to be better! Read it!!! Read it now especially in this era of mindless chest thumping overt and agrressive nationalism that goes back in time to distinguish between Us and Them instead of an all encompassing understanding that we are all linked and my brother’s loss is my loss!

P.S. Adam I hope you will forgive the disruption in the order list of my TBR, but this one was just too good to pass up!

Love and Longing In-Between Wars

I read The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford for the 12 Months Classics Challenge Event (August – A Modern Classic) as well as my Women’s Classical Literature Reading event for the month of August. I am choosing to overlook the fact that I was supposed to read this in August, but finally ended up reading it in September. Like I say better late than never!

The Pursuit of Love is set after the end of World War 1 and follows the lives of the Radlett children, until the end of World War II, through the eyes of their cousin Fanny . Fanny is the daughter of the youngest sister of Aunt Sadie, being brought by her other aunt, Aunt Emily. Fanny’s mother is called “Bolter” and has had a string of affairs and marriages leaving her daughter to the care of her sister to be brought up. Aunt Sadie is married to Matthew Radlett, who owns Alconleigh, where Fanny spends her holidays in the company of her Radlett cousins, especially Linda, to whom she is closest too. Their childhood is spent hunting with their uncle and forming plans in the wardrobe, for their secret society “The Hons”.  The Radlett girl cousins are not educated too much, Uncle Matthew being of the belief that girls to retain their feminine virtues, must know some French, play instruments and read and write, but no scholarship is needed. Aunt Emily however beliefs in education of women and ensures that Fanny receives a good education, even moving towns to enable her to attend a good school. At the age of 13, their lives are disturbed by the news that their Aunt Emily is getting married. Davey Warbeck is introduced to their lives and this gentle brilliant man with hyponchdriac tendencies is soon an accepted member of the extended Radlett tribe!  Soon the young children grow up and Louisa the eldest of the Radlett tribes debuts in London and marries a solid, albeit boring Scottish peer.Linda and Fanny spend days dreaming of the “true love” and waiting for their time in the society circles. The years pass and Linda and Fanny debut and in one of the balls hosted by her parents, she meets Tony Kroesig a young banker, brought in the last moment, by the glamorous neighbor and Linda’s mentor Lord Merlin. This sets off an unprecedented chain of events over the next decade that sees Linda failing and then falling and finally finding the expected  promise land.

I had heard much and much and much about this novel. It was cried out as one of the best coming of age stories and its humor and sensitivity was to touch one and all. It is a good book, it has many humorous touches. I loved the initial years of the Radlett children growing up and I loved the well drawn larger than life characters of Uncle Matthew,. Lord Merlin and Davy. I loved the brusque humor and the simple nostalgia of days and nights of doing everyday things and finding pleasure. I loved the relationships not bound by social stereotypes which spring forth and bring heart to this novel,. like Davy’s unvarying love and devotion to his nieces and Lord Merlin’s constant watching over Linda and the kind of care Aunt Sadie and Uncle Matthew bestowed on Emily and even her truant mother! These were wonderful relationships and I wish we had stuck to them instead of chasing Linda and her happening and non happening love life across the length and breath of Europe. I am told Nancy Mitford wrote this novel from her own recollections and experiences and I don’t know what to make of it; anyone who reads closely, will find that there is no bigger chicken head than Linda Radlett! She pines for true love; hello! who does not? But because she does not find it, she spend a whole decade doing nothing – I mean nothing!! She does even bother to take care of her daughter! She becomes a social butterfly then a communist before settling down to become a Mistress to her one true love! In between she does absolutely nothing, she does not read, she does not cook, she does not do anything except shop and spend days in parties and moan about her disastrous life!!Goodness! You would think, she is most unfortunate under privileged woman ever!Then I have a serious problem with the War; I mean there is a war on and the only thing Mitford focuses on is Linda’s pining away for her lover! I understand that the society then was different form us and society women doing nothing was the norm, but history testifies to many many woman who pinned for their lovers and still drove ambulances, worked in communal kitchens and patched up the wounded. During the war, there was no time for indulgence of grief; there was so much to do just to survive and all Linda does is lie in her bedroom in the posh London apartment! Ms. Mitford’s treatment of the war comes across as minor civilian disturbance; I am not sure what genre she was trying to fit in because she does not manage to in any!  The plot that begins with so much promise ends in a ordinary cliche, which you know would have been the inevitable conclusion some 80 pages into the book.

I read the book and I now of read of “the books” but frankly I have read better and I am still bemused at the kind of rave reviews it has received over the years!

The Cousins

This post is again way beyond its original stated timelines, and I can only apologize, especially to you Jane and plead mercy on account of extremely overwhelming work pressure and preparation of a certification exam! Moving on, about two years ago, Jane introduced me to the world of Margaret Kennedy, an author hereto unknown to me and whose works I absolutely fell in love with from the very start. I loved her Lucy Carmichael and The Feast and The Wild Swans and so many more! Naturally when Jane decided to host the Margaret Kennedy Day, I was not going to pass it up! And though I am really really late in posting about it, I thought as always, better late than never!

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I was originally planning to read the Ladies of Lyndon for the event, however a last minute mix up at the library, propelled me to make another selection and I read Red Sky at the Morning! Set in the backdrop of early years of 20th century and ending in post World War 1 England, the novel follows the lives of the two sets of cousins – The Forbishers and The Crownes. Their mother’s were siblings and both had married poet. After Mr. Crowns involvement in a a murder scandal and fleeing from the country, the Crowne twins – William and Emily who had already lost their mother, were brought under the guardianship of their aunt, Catherine Forbisher, now a widow with two children, Trevor and Charlotte. The four children grow up together enjoying the same amusements and under the same care of the concerned, well-meaning albeit strict parent! They played together, fought together and made plans for the future! They had the company of Philip Luttrel, a neighbor and the Rector and their uncle Bobby who had been disowned by Catherine temporarily, on account of his staying with a married woman. he met in India , whom he latter married and who became their aunt Lisa. World War I interrupted their idyllic childhood and the Forbisher’s and Crownes returned for the war, determined to lead their lives in the best way they thought possible. Trevor moved to London in order to became a poet, the twins also took up an establishment in  London and William began to work on a play. Soon they developed a glittering social life, but the ties of past cannot be broken and will come back to extract a price on all!

As always, there is a lot to be admired in the this book! Margret Kennedy captures the childhood and the post World War 1 era marvelously. You can so picture the brilliant countryside in spring as well the glittering parties of London, especially the gentle mockery of the London social and theater scene . You can see the grotesque Monk Hall and you can see Emily’s bedroom in London….the word pictures are completely clear and absolutely delightful. There are very human relations that come through in the book – the love among cousins and the natural jealousy that transpires when one does better than the other and yet the feeling of a clanship when an outsider tries to close in. There are some lovely moments of bonding and wonderful evolution of characters, especially Catherine Forbishers. There are some superb  characters  and I cannot stress enough on the brilliant way the character of Catherine Forsbisher was drawn. There some maginificent, kind and empathetic characters in the ensemble that take your breath away – you cannot help but be touched by the self denying kindness of Mandy Hacbukett and be moved by Bobby’s devotion to Lisa or  his insights into human nature. Philip is another vivid character, somewhat of a cross between George Knightly and Colonel Brandon.But as a Margaret Kennedy work, it falls short! Not all characters completely evolve and come together, especially William’s. By page 100, you more or less know that there is tragedy in the air and are now just waiting for the axe to fall and when it does, you are not surprised that it fell, but rather that it manner it was done seemed altogether difficult to understand and extremely abrupt! In fact the book is filled with hurried tie ups of plot lines that should have been given more time to evolve and find a natural closure and as a result, the reading is jerky and at times tries your patience as points are driven in until you are ready to scream and some points are blink and miss! It is however a good read and we ought to read it once, if nothing else for the some of the wonderful characterizations and for an insight into an era long gone!

On Becoming a Brook…

I know I have taken another one of my hiatus from blogosphere, but that can be completely attributed to my illness which kind of took a turn for worse this one month and threw all my grand plans and projects in a tail spin.  It was hardly a pleasant time and I am glad some part of it is over. And therefore I am back and ready with my endless prattle and updates and all the unbound enthusiasm of embracing everything that I can fathom!

I could do a book review of the several that I read over the last month, but since this is kind of like my welcome back blog, I thought I will keep it light and frothy and kind of give you a breezy update on all the “exciting” things that have happened in my life!

I naturally read a lot during these weeks – some of the books on top of my head which I read through were Paris by Edward Rutherford, Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCright, Miss Majoribanks by Margaret Oliphant, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, Perfume y Patrick Suskind, Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, a travelogue called Delhi by Heart: Impressions of a Pakistani Traveller by Raza Rumi and finally two on history – The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman and the iconic Band of Brother by Stephen Ambrose. I have also been reading some poetry and have discovered anew love for Emily Dickinson (whom I always loved) but also a respect and deep enjoyment for Tennyson. Maybe because he is optimistic and forward and his descriptions are so idyllic, whatever from not liking Tennyson to devouring Tennyson has been needless to say a very pleasant journey. Regarding the books, naturally you will be subjected to the reviews in the upcoming weeks!

Speaking of Band of Brothers, I finally watched the series during my illness – one of those days when I was too weak to even read and yes, I know it’s more than 10 years old and where was I burying my head and all that. My only apology is that it was first aired when I began college and being new in dorm, I did not want force my audienceship on all. Anyway the only thing that I was trying to say is I loved the series; the fact that it was a historical piece naturally helped; but I think one of the main reasons why I so loved it was the authenticity and the lack of one man ship – since the series was based on a company of soldiers and not a piece of fiction, there was no one hero, but rather a company of heroes. And yes, I read the book first and saw the series later!

I will end here and I will confess – I was kind of worried that after not writing for more than a month, I will struggle to put words on paper; but I have made a profound discovery, that if you really like doing something, you will thrive, no matter how and no matter where. And while, practice does improve the form and the application, the original self-sustaining love of what one does, will carry one through, through ages!

On that very happy note, I will leave you with a poem by (Yup! You guessed it) Lord Tennyson – I especially found these lines very close to my heart (I have highlighted them in bold) and thought was apt for the occasion – I will chatter and survive!

THE BROOK – By: Alfred Tennyson

I come from haunts of coot and hern,

I make a sudden sally,

And sparkle out among the fern,

To bicker down a valley.

By thirty hills I hurry down,

Or slip between the ridges,

By twenty thorps, a little town,

And half a hundred bridges.

Till last by Philip’s farm I flow

To join the brimming river,

For men may come and men may go,

But I go on forever.

I chatter over stony ways,

In little sharps and trebles,

I bubble into eddying bays,

I babble on the pebbles.

With many a curve my banks I fret

by many a field and fallow,

And many a fairy foreland set

With willow-weed and mallow.

I chatter, chatter, as I flow

To join the brimming river,

For men may comeand men may go,

But I go on forever.

I wind about, and in and out,

with here a blossom sailing,

And here and there a lusty trout,

And here and there a grayling,

And here and there a foamy flake

Upon me, as I travel

With many a silver water-break

Above the golden gravel,

And draw them all along, and flow

To join the brimming river,

For men may come and men may go,

But I go on forever.

I steal by lawns and grassy plots,

I slide by hazel covers;

I move the sweet forget-me-nots

That grow for happy lovers.

I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance,

Among my skimming swallows;

I make the netted sunbeam dance

Against my sandy shallows.

I murmur under moon and stars

In brambly wildernesses;

I linger by my shingly bars;

I loiter round my cresses;

And out again I curve and flow

To join the brimming river,

For men may come and men may go,

But I go on forever.

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