Thanks to a suggestion from Robbie, writer and cake-maker extraordinaire, I am embarking on a new A-Z. This time, it is about books and authors. You can use the title of any book, fiction or non-fiction, or the surname of any author, as long as it begins with ‘A’. For readers who do not have English as a first language, feel free to include foreign titles. Hopefully, we will all discover lots more about literature, and find many new books and authors to investigate. Before you play along, please check out Robbie’s excellent blog. https://robbiesinspiration.wordpress.com/
I am starting with one of the greatest anti-war books ever written. The powerful novel about the First World War by Eric Maria Remarque, ‘All Quiet On The Western Front’, published in 1929. This tells the story of excited young soldiers from their time at school, through to their harsh military training, and eventual involvement in the horrors of the trenches. Those soldiers are Germans, but the nationality is immaterial, as the experience was the same, whatever side the young men were fighting on.
This novel is rich with characterisation and description, and you really feel yourself taken on the journey with Baumer, Muller, Kropp, and Kat. As well as insights into life at the front, the fighting, and the occasional breaks from the trenches, we also see how the youth of a nation became detached from the life back home. When Baumer goes on leave back to Germany, he can no longer settle in his former life, and longs to return to his comrades, and the war. This book was later banned by the Nazi regime, and made into a classic film of the same name, in 1930.
By contrast, the 1991 novel ‘American Psycho’ by Brett Easton Ellis, deals with the vain and vacuous lifestyles of the super rich executives during the financial boom on America’s Wall Street, in the 1980s. Young men who compete to have the most impressive business card, or to get a table in the best fashionable restaurants. They have affairs with each other’s girlfriends, and spend time styling their bodies in the same way that they style their lives. These men have no real friends or attachments, and appear to be devoid of normal emotions. Their sole aim in life is to appear to be better than others, and to acquire more wealth and possessions.
What is shocking about this book, is that its main character and narrator, Patrick Bateman, is also a serial killer, preying on those around him with a callous air of complete detachment that reflects his everyday business dealings. Despite the descriptions of murders, and the overwhelming sense of the sheer pointlessness of the lives led by the characters, I thought this book was a wonderfully impressive allegory on the society of greed and indifference that existed at the time.
My third choice for ‘A’, and today’s top pick, is a novel I have written about before on this blog, ‘And Quiet Flows The Don’, by Mikhail Sholokhov. (And the sequel, ‘The Don Flows Home To The Sea’) In my late teens, I was becoming interested in politics, Left-Wing politics in particular. I discovered these books by the Russian writer, published in full in 1940, and was immediately drawn into the world described in them. He had won the Nobel Prize for literature a few years earlier, and deservedly so. The story deals with a vast array of characters from the Cossack heartland of Russia, and their experiences from the outbreak of the First World War, until the end of the Russian Civil War. He was writing from personal experience, having served in the Bolshevik army, and coming from the area he describes. Reading these books I learned a lot about Russian history, but also about following characters, wanting to know what happens to them, and being swept up in an unfamiliar world, made familiar by skillful writing.
Please add your own favourites in the comments. It can be a children’s book, a serious novel, or a major work of non-fiction. There are no rules, except the letter ‘A’.