Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Look at Non-fiction: The World Wars

One of my absolutely favourite thing to read is non-fiction set in or around the World Wars. I especially enjoy if it about the women involved, but I will read both. Since I have decided to read a bit of non-fiction to shake my current reading up a lot, I went through a few blogs and received a few recommendations. I thought for something different today I would showcase the books relating to these subjects I have actually reviewed on my blog.

War Brides: The stories of the women who left everything behind to follow the men they loved by Melynda Jarratt
For thousands of young British girls, the influx of Canadian soldiers conscripted to Britain during the Second World War meant throngs of handsome young men. The result was over 48,000 marriages to Canadian soldiers alone, and a mass emigration of British women to North America and around the world in the 1940's.

For many brides, the decision to leave their family and ome to move to a country thousands of miles away with a man they hardly knew brought forth ensuing happiness. For others, the outcome was much different, and the darker side of the story reveals the infidelity, domestic violence, poverty, alcoholism and divorce that many lived through.

War Brides draws on original archival documents, personal correspondence, and key first hand accounts to tell the amazing story of the War Brides in their own words-and shows the love, passion, tragedy and spirit of adventure of thousand of British women.
I read this back in 2009. My review was not very detailed, but war brides have always really interested me. Growing up there was a woman my mother was very close to, and still is, who I always thought of as another grandparent. She was a war bride from England. Her husband died when I was young, but she is still around and speaking with her British accent. I can actually clearly predict that she is the reason I was so interested in War Brides stories. She would talk about it once in a while, but not like the people in this book. I thought all the different experiences that these women went through upon reaching Canada were fascinating. The book was well worth the read!

Also in 2009 I finally read Maus: A Survivor's Tale. I was still new to reading graphic novels regularly, but Art Spiegelman did an amazing job telling about the Holocaust. The books are very worth the read!

My review of the first book can be found here and the second volume here.

In 2008 I had read another graphic memoir about the Holocaust. I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors by Bernice Eisenstein.
In this truly innovative memoir, Bernice Eisenstein combines her skills as a writer and illustrator to recount her early childhood in the 1950s. Drawing on the memories of her parents-both Holocaust survivors-and the fragmented stories of other family members lost in the war, she explores the impact of their legacy on her own life. Through her vivid prose and stunning illustrations, Eisenstein crafts a tale that is emotionally rich and visually arresting.

I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors harkens back to Art Spiegelman's Maus but breaks new ground in combining graphic novel and memoir. Mixing sadness with bittersweet humor, Eisenstein describes her experiences growing up in the wake of the World War II. But more than a book about the Holocaust and its far-reaching shadow, this moving, searingly honest testament speaks to the universality of memory and loss.

Anyone who sees this book will be deeply affected by its beautiful, highly evocative writing and its brilliantly original, haunting artwork.
This book was very affecting and was slightly different in nature to Maus. You can read my review of it here.

One series that I love is the Extraordinary Canadians series released by Penguin Books. I was buying them as they came out, but I have fallen behind on reading them, so I stalled on buying them. I will have to remedy that at some point! I have reviewed the book on Lord Beaverbank and Nellie McClung.

The only other book I have actually reviewed that pertains to this topic is Baptism of Fire by Nathan M. Greenfield.
Nathan M. Greenfield's talent for combining rich (and often overlooked) historical data with first-person accounts made his book The Battle of the St. Lawrence both a critical and popular success. Now he turns his formidable storytelling skill to one of the defining battles of the First World War and a seminal event in the building of our country. The Second Battle of Ypres pitted the highly trained German soldiers - armed with the first weapon of mass destruction, chlorine gas - against the 1st Canadian Division, which had been in the trenches for just over a week. Yet it was the Canadians who ultimately triumphed, stopping the German advance that followed history's first poison-gas attacks. In Baptism of Fire, Greenfield revisits the battlefields and war rooms of history, deconstructing military motives and unearthing scores of unpublished interviews, giving voice to the men who faced what one officer called a "filthy, loathsome pestilence" that turned copper buttons green and seared the Canadians' lungs. He describes how surprise turned to terror as the infantry saw the first clouds of chlorine gas rolling towards them; how, at first, the German soldiers had joked that their mysterious silver cylinders, spied across the enemy line, were a new kind of German beer keg. Recreating how the Canadians immediately filled the 12-kilometre-long hole in the Allied lines after the initial gas attack, Greenfield takes readers into the unimaginable horror of shell fire that turned men into "pink mist" and obliterated trenches, leaving the survivors to defend a position of death. And he explains how the untried Canadians, with their defective Ross rifles, breathing through urine-soaked handkerchiefs, successfully made one of the most important stands of the war - perhaps even staving off an ultimate German victory. With alacrity and a great respect for the men in the trenches, Greenfield adds a new dimension to, and explodes a few myths behind, the Battle of Ypres. Within his pages are the words of the Canadian - and German - soldiers themselves, many of whom have never been heard before. Their accounts make this a gripping read for anyone seeking to understand our historical or military past.
This book was very interesting. It is subtitled 'The Second Battle of Ypres and the Forging of Canada, April 1915'. You can read my review of it here.

I was actually surprised by how short this list is! I am sure there are more that I didn't actually review. I will just have to read and review more this year to add to the list!

What is your favourite type of non-fiction? If you read the same topic as mentioned in this post, what are books that you recommend?


  1. What a great post! I would love to get into reading more about Canada - I just never know where to start. Extraordinary Canadians sounds like a really good series so I'll check that out. I do want to read War Brides as well. I am fascinated by stories of the war although I don't read near enough about it.

  2. I like non-fiction too but don't have a favorite topic. If it looks interesting, I'll read it.

  3. I like non-fiction, too. I'll read just about any topic that grabs my interest, just like Chrisarama.

    As to the war brides thing, I read a fictional account of a group of war brides traveling from Australia to England, last year, The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes. That was one of my favorites in 2010. Which reminds me . . . I haven't bothered to write up my favorites list. Hmm, wonder why I'm procrastinating.

  4. You might want to look into books published in the UK that were done using information from the Mass Observation Project. I read a book called Wartime Women and it was really interesting, all about women at home during the war! I also just finished reading a book called Soldier from the War Returning, which is about how hard it was for families to readjust to a normal life after the war- very sad, but fascinating!

  5. I don't read a lot of nonfiction but I do like to read some once in awhile. I actually just checked out Columbine by Dave Cullen from the library. I'm looking forward to reading it but nervous at the same time.

  6. I've read quite a few fiction books set in this period but it never occuried to me to find some nonfiction. I prefer biographies when it comes to nonfiction.

  7. I have read loads of fiction set during the war, but I'm not sure I've read any non-fiction. This post is a wonderful explanation as to why I should change my ways - War Brides in particular sounds like something I'd enjoy - thank you for bringing it to my attention.

  8. I don't read a lot of war-related nonfiction but I do love watching documentaries about the first and second world wars. Seems like once a year I get this urge to check out history channel and pbs dvds from the library. They are so fascinating and inspiring and also very tragic.

    I'm not sure that I have a 'favorite' type of nonfiction. I do like personal essays a great deal, I like books that talk about books and book loving. I am a big fan of books about Tolkien and Tolkien's work.

    Last year I read more nonfiction than I think I've ever read in any 365 day period. Will be interesting to see how that changes this year.

  9. Great post! I will make sure your reviews are linked on War Through the Generations.

    I find WWII fascinating, and I read a lot of fiction and non-fiction set during that period. (I just reviewed The Last Brother last week, which is a unique WWII novel that I thought was beautifully written.)

    I will read pretty much about any war; there's just something about the impact of war on individuals and society that I find fascinating. Some of the best books about war I've read recently are Matterhorn (Vietnam), Small Wars (tensions in Cyprus after WWII), and Strange Meeting (WWI). But it's so hard to pick a favorite!

  10. Darlene: The Extraordinary Canadians series is a great intro to the different personalities and then if you are really interested you can know what subjects you want to explore in more detail.

    Chris: I do read more than just history. Interest counts, too.

    Bookfool: Oh, yes, I have been meaning to read that book. I will add it to the list to see if I can get it from the library!

    Aarti: Actually, in the behind the scenes world of emails I have been talking about those books. My library doesn't have any, but I might buy the one you read at some point.

    Samantha: I wish I read more non-fiction. I go through spurts, though.

    Tink: I will read biographies, too, but I prefer learning about lots of things instead of just one person.

    farmlanebooks: To my understanding there are several books about the war brides. That was just the one my library had. I hope you enjoy!

    Carl: I like watching it on television, too. Recently we watched The Pacific. I know that is fiction, but it was really really good!

    Anna: Thanks! I actually really want to read The Last Brother after your review of it! I own Small Wars. I will have to look up the other two.

  11. Have you heard about/read the new book that's out about Girl Guides? I think it's actually called How Girl Guides Won the War ... or something along those lines.

  12. *Lesley: I have the paperback, coming out in July, preordered. :)


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