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Archive for the ‘Penelope Fitzgerald’ Category

With The Old Breed, by E.B. Sledge

I read “With The Old Breed”, by E.B. Sledge, nickname, “Sledgehammer”,(WWII) and “Storm Of Steel” by Ernst Junger (WWI).  The first was about fighting in the Pacific, to push the Japanese out of Peleliu and Okinawa. Both were horrendous, hard fought, inch by inch in the worst circumstances of  heat, mud, rain, fear, exhaustion, and overwhelming stench, along with almost certain death, as only 26 of the original hundreds came back alive and not wounded enough to be sent home. Sledge hates the war, and is almost immediately heartsick at the suffering, but talks of the intense loyalty and courage with which the men fight for one another, and is himself very brave.

Storm Of Steel” by Ernst Junger

 Junger seems like a man born for war. He exults in danger, he seems able to detach from the slaughter and horror around him, and only after four long years and enough death and horror to bludgeon even him, does he begin to talk of remorse, nightmares, and loss. He was wounded seven times(?) and sent back and returned. At first I loathed him but I got interested in his well written descriptions, and his POV seems so unlike most we know, a POV where honor and courage and endurance are the measure of a man, that death and pain are incidental almost. As for women…well, in neither book do they have a part, except as reasons to fight, or fantasies to hold on to.
Both books described the same horrors of frontline, man to man combat, trench warfare, and on the other side, tremendous bonds between the men, although for Sledge they were awful, whereas Junger enjoyed making himself comfortable somehow, even in a dirt hole. He was made an officer, which gave him some perks, but he seemed to enjoy the hardship.
In reading each book, towards the end I found myself skimming to avoid engaging in the grim blow by blow narratives, but the two books gave me a better sense of what it must be like, minus the fear and horror and not to be understood part that being there would leave you with.

Mortality, by Christopher Hitchen

Just to stay on the light and cheery motif, I read Christopher Hitchen’s “Mortality”, because there it sat on my mother’s desk, one of my sister’s books. That is short, brave, intelligent, and also awful to read. It is too close to home to not leave a sense of gratitude in being alive and well, and a wish that I could be half as brave and clear and engaging if I were dying.

The Bookshop, by Penelope Fitzgerald

I also read, earlier, “The Bookshop” By Penelope Fitzgerald, a short novel about a woman who goes off to a small village on the east coast of England and opens a bookshop, and its a well written, engaging book, for the characters and the world she creates there. I had read her book “The Blue Flower” a while ago, and liked that as well, though both are pretty melancholy and odd.


 On The Move, by Oliver Sacks

I’ve almost finished the Oliver Sacks autobiography, “On The Move”, and, after a slow start, thinking his love of motorcycles, his repressed gay life, were not grabbing me, I liked him more and more, because he is so full of intelligence, complexity, and sheer interest in many aspects, especially of humans who are often just pushed out of sight and unremarked or cared for. He is a force of empathy and energy, but in spite of a shyness, and self-doubt, which makes him more lovable.
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