There is no question that I got my love of reading from my Mom (hi Mom!). Growing up, she always had a book on the go, and by the time I was about eight years old, I did too. When my Mom sent me a guest post about books, I knew it would be perfect to post on my blog. Here she is: Eileen.
I have been an avid reader all my life. I enjoy a wide variety of subject matter, but my absolute favourite is history. One of my sisters, Peggy, my brother Eamonn, and I inherited this love of history from my father; my son Paul inherited it too and now, I’m delighted to say, my granddaughter, Niamh, has inherited it as well.
Finola and family were here on Saturday, and Niamh brought one of her books with her. It was one of a series of historical fiction books written for children. She has read several of them and loves them.
After the family went home, I began to think of books I had read that left a huge impression on me and affected me deeply. Of course there is a large number, but I finally settled on three that, to me, are the most important. I’m going to list them, not in the order of preference, but because I have to begin somewhere. One of them is about WWI, and the other two about WWII.
The first: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
This is about a group of teenage German soldiers conscripted from school to fight in WWI. Because of their youth, they understood almost nothing about the reasons for which this war was being fought. They were children sent to fight a war against an ‘enemy’ that had done them no harm. The book follows them through the war, and depicts beautifully the relationship among the four young men and their sergeant, Kat.
One by one, they died, the last two being Kat and then Paul, the principal protagonist. Each death of these innocent young men was like a punch in the stomach. The memory of Remarque’s description of Paul’s death is as fresh in my mind as the day I first read it:
He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front
He died just one month before the Armistice.
A very poignant song was written about the Christmas truce of 1914 between the Allied and German troops. It really illustrates the feelings of the young men on both sides sent to fight a European war instigated to settle age-old disputes that had no relevance to the young soldiers being slaughtered.
You can listen to it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfdOOCOQ9sk
It is sung by Canadian tenor John McDermott. (You have to use ‘Control’ and click at the same time to open this)
The second is: The Diary of Anne Frank
This is an amazing document written by a young girl, begun just after her 13th birthday. It tells of the experiences of Anne, her sister Margot, their parents, another family of three, and a single unrelated man, all of whom were hidden in the sealed attic of Mr. Frank’s office building in Amsterdam. They were there for over two years, helped by colleagues of Mr. Frank’s, who helped them at great risk to themselves. (One of these helpers was Miep Gies, who died a little over two years ago at the age of 101.)
The families were betrayed in August 1944, and sent to Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz. The only one to survive was Otto Frank. Anne died in March 1945, just two weeks before the camp was liberated by British troops.
What is remarkable about this book is the insight and perception shown by one so young, her ability to endure her confinement with humour and courage, and her unfailing hope and faith in people and in the future.
A great talent was lost to the world with the death of Anne.
The third is: Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada
This book was on Finola’s e-reader. She loved it and was sure I would like it too. That’s putting it mildly. Every Man Dies Alone impacted me so much that it completely disrupted my usual Saturday morning routine. Normally I get up early, make a cup of tea and spend about three hours reading The Ottawa Citizen, and doing the crossword and the word puzzles. However, on a Saturday morning when I was about two-thirds through the book, I just couldn’t concentrate on the paper for thinking about the book, so I gave up and opened the story. I read constantly from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. until I had finished it. It’s that good.
It is based on the true story of a German couple during WWII.
The book, although written in 1947, was not translated into English until 2009, where it became a best-seller in the U.S. and the U.K. It is about a German working-class couple that wanted to do something to counteract Naziism. It is set in Berlin during WWII. They were without money or power, but hit on the idea of writing notes critical of the regime, and leaving them in prominent places around the city where they would be found and read. They did not have access to a printing press, so the notes had to be hand-written. Their campaign was very successful and caused great alarm to the authorities. It was also very dangerous to themselves. It is a heart-stopping story about two very courageous people.
As it’s still a relatively new book, at least over here, I don’t want to give away any more of the story.
These three books didn’t change the course of my life, but they did make me see that there are always brave people that see evil and do everything they can to counteract it, to speak up against it even at the risk of losing their lives. And so many of them did. Above all, do not blame people living today for acts committed long before they were born.
Three other books that affected me deeply are:
Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels
No Great Mischief by Alistair McLeod
Away by Jane Urquhart