July 21st, 2006


July Books 16) The Red Badge of Courage

16) The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane

Had vaguely been meaning to read this for ages after I bought it last year. I think I had seen some references to it in one of Joe Haldeman's novels, or something similar. I must say I thought it was rather good. It's the story of a young soldier in the US Civil War, with a very strong psychological perspective on his frame of mind as he goes into his first battle (and indeed runs away from it, but goes back and tries again). As well as the exploration of the central character's inner life, the descriptions of landscape and of the battle scenes are vivid and colourful. My one reservation is that the tight third person point of view is somewhat let down on the few occasions that Fleming actually speaks; his words as reported just don't seem completely consistent with the character whose complex runimations we have been pursuing. Apart from that, good even-handed stuff. (The author was born in 1870, years after the war ended, but based it on interviews with veterans and the battle is generally supposed to be Chancellorsville.)

I've linked above to the LibraryThing page for the book; not sure if I will do this regularly but it may be a useful jumping-off point for people.

July Books 17) Under the Devil's Eye

17) Under the Devil's Eye: Britain's Forgotten Army at Salonika 1915-1918, by Alan Wakefield and Simon Moody

Today was a public holiday in Belgium, so I took another step in my efforts to familiarise myself with the Macedonia campaign of the first world war. This is much more of a grass-roots story compared to Alan Palmer's geopolitical survey, livened up by direct accounts from the soldiers themselves, either from contemporary letters or from memoirs. It also concentrates exclusively on the British, with one benefit being an entire chapter on the Struma Valley battles of 1916 which Palmer almost ignores. The maps are by far the clearest of any of the books I've consulted so far (though I do wish I had access to the colour maps which graced Cyril Falls' first edition).

The true discovery of this book for me was the poetry of Owen Rutter, who wrote an epic called "Tiadatha" ("Tired Arthur") in the style of Wadsworth's Hiawatha, itself of course based on the Kalevala, which really caught my eye (not just because of my own recent efforts). There are some particularly moving passages which I will save for a later occasion, but for now his description of the city at the centre of the campaign will do:
Tiadatha thought of Kipling,
Wondered if he's ever been there
Thought: "At least in Rue Egnatia
East and West are met together."
There were trams and Turkish beggars,
Mosques and minarets and churches,
Turkish baths and dirty cafés,
Picture palaces and kan-kans:
Daimler cars and Leyland lorries
Barging into buffalo wagons,
French and English private soldiers
Jostling seedy Eastern brigands.
Rutter went on to make a name for himself as a travel writer, and was a district administrator in Borneo; his novel "Lucky Star" was filmed as "Once In A Blue Moon" in 1935, and IMDB rates this as having been sf; who knows?