Friday, January 28, 2005

Book Number 5


2004 was the 60th anniversary of the other front when Allied troops fought their way up Italy. Canadian troops played a crucial role in this 20-month campaign to liberate Italy. It was the first major land operation in which the Canadian Army stationed in Great Britain took part.


One mans account of part of this campaign can be found in the book And No Birds Sang by Farley Mowat. Mowat's "Canadian Icon" status has come under fire in the last few years because of questions raised about the veracity of a few of his early novels. Whether or not that is the case in this book remains to be seen but in any event, he has written a powerful tale.

Young Farley dreams of joining the battle against the Huns from his family home in Saskatchewan. When he finally does get into the regiment they cool their heels in Great Britain for quite awhile. Finally, the Canadian troops are sent to spearhead the frontline in Sicily and southern Italy and Mowat gets in the action.

The book brilliantly describes the arc of the naive, eager soldier seeing men destroyed mentally and physically then becoming hardened to the horrors of war. Mowat is a clear and engaging writer who takes us into the heart of what it was to be a soldier in WWII.

The edition I read would have been better if it had a map that we could follow the progress geographically.


Jarrett said...

Cool. I was going to read "Never Cry Wolf" but the Alaskans interviewed in "The Final Frontiersman" pretty much talked me out of it.

I like war books, though, fiction and non, so I may check this one out. You may want to read Anton Myrer's "Once an Eagle." It's long, and maybe not so easy to find in shops, but it's one of my favorite war books. It traces the career of an American army soldier from just before WW1 to the start of the Korean War (or maybe Vietnam, it's been a while since I read it). Conan will remind us. He's read it. Great battle writing and characters. You can feel the mud in your teeth, the lice beneath your belt, and you want to punch out the snivelling, cowardly careerist who never fights a battle (like that perfumed dude who walks through the battlefield in the beginning of Henry 5th.)

Some others are Sledge's "With the Old Breed," a book whose title escapes me but is written by an Alsaice-Lorraine guy who has to fight with the Nazis named Guy Sajer, and "Eagle Against the Sun" by Spector.

And you should see the movie Pearl Harbor.

Just kidding.

I also find it very annoying when I'm reading something that relies heavily on geographical references (war books or even newspaper articles) and they assume I have a deep knowledge of the area. How much space would it take to put in an appropriately marked map?

Lantzvillager said...

Those are some good suggestions. I did read 'Once An Eagle' on the suggestion of CP and it was a great book. I really like both the overview mil history where they show the historical movement of battles and the personal experiences (like this book). I'll look into those ones you noted.

Jarrett said...

well, well, well. I looked up the name of the Sajer book, which I read in my first year of real college (not community college), and discovered that it's generated a little controversy. Bummer.

The name of the book is "The Forgotten Soldier."


Lantzvillager said...

Very interesting. I had never heard of this book but it sounds as though it's used as a pretty standard primer. I will definitely have to find a copy of this one now.

If you are interested in the vietnam experience, I have read 2 books by Tim O'Brien: "The Things They Carried" and "If I Die in a Combat Zone : Box Me Up and Ship Me Home". The first is short stories based on his experiences and the second is a straight memoir. He writes very well. I particularly remember a sequence where, upon being drafted, he goes up to Minnesota in order to slip across the border. The way he describes the week there agonizing over what to do is powerful.

Have you read "Jarhead"? ;) Its from Desertstorm 1 and I think its in production as a film.

It seem strange to me that for all the people that have fought in all the modern wars we don't have a huge canon of well respected memoirs.

Olman Feelyus said...

Well it seems like you two are putting together a nice little list right there! I'm going to have to check out some of those titles.

Jarrett, definitely read Never Cry Wolf. It's a great book. It's really short, moving and caustic. What were the criticisms of it?

Lantzvillager said...

See the link in the original post.

Olman Feelyus said...

I'm sure that Farley colored up some of his true stories. But you should still read Never Cry Wolf. Be aware that he really angered a lot of hunters when he wrote his book and they consider him their enemy, so it's hard to know which side to believe. There is a large contingency of people who think we should be out shooting all the wolves in helicopters. These are the same kind of people who made all the inuit in Northern Quebec bring their dogs to a government camp where they then took them all and shot them because they were "getting out of control."

Jarrett said...

Conan, if I see a wolf in a helicopter I am definitely going to shoot it.