Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Chad's take

I better review this while it's still fresh in my memory... Although I don't consider myself well-read on WWII, I have enjoyed a dozen books or so (mostly non-fiction) that take place during this most significant period in recent history. Nearly everything I've read takes the perspective of American and Allied troops in the midst of battle, and only mentions civilian life of those left behind in passing.

What I enjoyed most about this book, were the descriptions of how a community far removed from the front lines lived through Nazi occupation, the threat of air raids, and other horrors of war by forming social networks like their literary society. It illustrates that people must learn to cope with the tragic circumstances they find themselves in. Survivors strive to find constructive distractions to demoralizing chaos. In a way, I could draw parallels to the aftermath of 9/11 in our own time.

Several letters, Eben Ramsey's account of the pig roast in particular, were very poignant and interesting to read. I imagine that his description of a farmer forced to provide food to an enemy army was very realistic. I also appreciated Dawsey Adams insight and introspection which were in stark contrast to the effeminate Clovis Fossey blathering on about women's purses and heels or dim-witted Isola Pribby's forensic skills.

Other than published diaries, I've never run across a book that uses a written letter format exclusively to tell the story. After reading this, I can see why. Without a narrator or outside voice to tie up loose ends, the author is forced to fill in details using mundane telegrams and other short bantering correspondence which made parts of the book seem like eavesdropping on someone's private text message session. I'm sure some of that is necessary to move the story along when the authors commit to this style of writing, but it really highlights the weakness and tediousness of the format.

I had a hard time connecting with the characters and therefore never developed a reason to care much about them or become emotionally attached. Something about the way that these different personalities came together and bonded around Elizabeth just didn't ring true to me. Similarly, Juliet's passion to devote her life to her Guernsey pen pals seemed a bit overzealous didn't it?

In the end, there were parts I really enjoyed, especially the powerful and emotional observations of war through civilian eyes. Unfortunately, these moments were fleeting and far between. I realize that I'm not exactly the target audience the authors had in mind, but I honestly did try to put my biases aside and read this objectively. I believe the author's chosen format was the biggest drawback for me, but that aside, I just couldn't find much to appreciate about this story.


Melvin and Carly said...

Chad, thanks for your comments and welcome to the group! It was nice to read about your thoughts on the book.

I agree with you that Juliet's devotion to her Guernsey pen pals was a little overzealous. :) While I could argue the point about Elizabeth, having grown up in a pretty close-knit community and seeing similar things, I won't. On a more superficial note with the letters, I was mostly just surprised at the efficiency of the post office. Letters sent to and received from Australia in a week's time? That's amazing! It sometimes takes longer than that to get a letter from here in southern CA to my parents in Juneau!

Thanks again for your insight. Hopefully we'll read something you'll enjoy. You might have to make some suggestions.

Chad's Travels said...

Yeah, I had similar thoughts about the speed of the letters. It sometimes seemed like they were sending email. I hope my review didn't sound too harsh. Like I said, I'm not exactly the target audience they were shooting for.

I don't think it's poorly written or anything, it just didn't pique my interest. I certainly don't expect you guys to choose your books on my account!

You're right about Elizabeth. It certainly is possible for a strong willed leader to inspire everyone around them like that.