After last weeks books being so completely different I picked two books off my “to be read” pile that followed a history theme. These two books were different enough to keep my attention, and not blend into one another. The Things They Carried is Vietnam-era from a soldiers recollections of war, and Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is World War 2 love story based very loosely upon stories from soldiers and families out of London. Enjoy!
Tim O’Brien – The Things They Carried
Tim O’Brien is a gifted story teller. The book floats the line on fiction vs non-fiction, he “plays with the truth” of recollections of time spent in Vietnam. O’Brien even addresses this issue within his book. “A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.” Some of the stories are not his, but ones told to him and even those have been added to or taken away from to give the reader a vivid picture of how the soldiers must have carried their truths err half-truths with them.
I enjoyed the way the book started, laying out what each man might have had on his back and why. But it evolves without knowing it, before long we are reading about the stories they carried on their back and how some men never stopped carrying their war stories until their very end. There is blood, gore, ugly war honesty and brutal stories that might have at one time only been shared with other men in the same brotherhood. Some of it seemed far-fetched, for example a story of a solider who had his girlfriend join him at an outpost for many weeks, but even a story like that told in the mud of the rice patties would have given the men hope and something other than trench foot to think of. Even without the gore I will continue to think of these men, fictional or not.
I finished the book feeling sorrowful. Not because of the book, although there are some very sad stories in it, but because I haven’t sat down with my family who served in Vietnam and asked if they wanted to share any of their war stories.
O’Brien has many award winning books, and I have added If I Die in a Combat Zone: Box Me Up and Ship Me Home to my “to be read” pile.
“War is hell, but that’s not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead. -P.76”
Chris-Cleave – Everyone Brave is Forgiven
Chris Cleave borrowed memories, stories and letters from his grandparents (paternal and maternal) to create three surprisingly entwined characters during the beginning of the war in London 1931. A lady who enlists right away with great enthusiasm only to get assigned to a school as a teacher. A quiet gentle man who runs the school district and gets denied entry into the military. A man who does his duty and finds himself in the heart of the war in France and Malta as a solider.
All three struggle with serious life-changing decisions to be made, from social injustices and soldiering dilemmas to deciding authenticity of love during war-time struggles. The love story is messy, and not clear cut which I highly enjoyed, it seemed most realistic and yet truly heartbreaking given the setting. The book ends with a satisfactory but not passionate ending.
I had a little bit of a hard time getting into the book. Cleave is a master wordsmith but I was getting anxious for the story to move forward, probably about 40 some pages in I had a good rhythm and (finally) felt a connection to the lead characters. I wasn’t aware of the stories about black children not being evacuated to the country with the rest of London’s school children and I’ve never pictured how life would have been in a city still moving forward while dealing with night raids. The book is full of English-wit and language, but beneath it all I found the book to be enlightening and memorable.
“The worst thing would be to decide that it was love, and then to discover – after one was taken – that it hadn’t been. No: the worst thing would be to decide that it wasn’t love, and then to discover years later – old and unconsoled – that it had been. No: the worst thing – the worst, worst thing – was this having to decide. -P.76”
“Oh, I hope I don’t teach. Because look what we did: we saved the zoo animals and the nice children, and we damned the afflicted and the blacks. You know what I do every day in that classroom? I do everything in my power to make sure those poor souls won’t learn the obvious lesson.-P.131”