Listen: Librarian Nicole Yule recommends three war-based books in order to reflect this Anzac Day weekend
Librarian Nicole Yule shared on Hope Breakfast with Sam Robinson some suggestions for books to read this Anzac Day weekend that will help you reflect on the World Wars, and those who served.
War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
Nicole suggests sitting down with this famous book, which has also been turned into a film, and also a stage show on West End with quite amazing puppetry.
War Horse is an amazing story which is quite unique in that it is told from the horse’s perspective. It is about Joey, the horse, and his owner Albert, who is a young boy at the start of the novel. When World War I starts Joey the horse is sold to the army by Albert’s father to become a war horse. Albert promises him he will try and find him again one day. Joey serves during the war both in the Calvary, in pulling ambulances and in moving artillery and sees both sides of the war when he ends up being owned both by the Allies and some German soldiers.
This is a novel written for young people but would be enjoyed by both children, teenagers and adults. It is a very moving story which portrays the brutality of war from the perspective of Joey the horse. Michael Morpurgo is an excellent author who has written dozens of books, though War Horse would be his most famous. The story is based on recounts about the war and the horses involved from veterans of World War I whom Morpurgo had met.
War Girls by Various Authors
This option might suit those who prefer short stories rather than a long novel.
War Girls has nine stories about the experiences of young women during World War I. They are written by a range of authors including Anne Fine, Adele Geras and Sally Nichols, all of whom predominantly write for young adults. Each story focuses on a different experience during the war, some of which I had never heard of before, like Mark Nicholls’ tale Ghost Story which explores the reports that there were female snipers used at Gallipoli. He takes this idea and writes a fictionalised account of what might have driven a woman to take up such a role.
Some of the other stories include those about a courageous nurse who risks her life on the front line and a young woman who discovers independence and intrigue in wartime London. This collection of short stories explores how the First World War changed and shaped the lives of women forever.
Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
Nicole said she cheated a bit with her final recommendation as it is not about World War I but World War II. She included it because she believes it is the most compelling and the one that has given her the greatest insight into the experience of war for civilians.
Suite Francaise was started in 1941 but never finished. Irene wanted to write a book which would explain what she was experiencing as a civilian in France during the war. The book starts in 1940 with the fall of Paris to the Nazis. The description of a group of Parisians as they flee the Nazi invasion and make their way through the chaos of France is something which has stayed with Nicole many years after reading the book. It portrays the war in a rare way, because generally books written about World War I or II are historical fiction written many years after the event and based on accounts of others. Irene was writing about her own experiences in the midst of the war still being ongoing and in doing so captures for the reader what it was like and the chaos for those living there.
The second part of the novel focuses on the inhabitants of a small rural community under occupation and what their daily is like. And then, just as it has completely drawn you in and you can’t wait to see how it will develop, the novel finishes.
This is because in July 1942, Irene was arrested as a Jew and eventually killed at Auschwitz, a victim of the Holocaust. The book was handwritten in a notebook which Irene’s daughter had taken as a memento of her mother and carried with her as she fled from one hiding place to another throughout the war. She never read it because she believed it would be too painful. But finally, in the late 1990s she decided to donate it and before she let it go she read it. Realising how good it was, she then sent it to a publisher and in 2004 (64 years after it was written) it could finally be read by the public.
Listen to Nicole sharing more about these books in the player above.