Monday, 27 January 2014

Stories of World War I, edited by Tony Bradman

A collection of short stories from some of the best children's and young people's writers in the business. Between them, the stories look at World War I from just about every perspective imaginable; the underage enlistees that sign on the dotted line looking for adventure and a ticket out of their home town; the wives, mothers, sisters and children left behind; the men in the trenches; the women on the home front; the broken men that return to their families; the Germans, who had a pretty terrible time too; the soldiers from the Imperial countries who have been shipped in to England to serve the Empire. The book really captures what a global conflict the Great War really was and seems to appreciate the deeply personal and devastatingly unique effect it had on every individual that fought, and every individual that didn't. 

Some of the stories use WWI as a backdrop to address issues as diverse as race, exile, patriotism, class, political unrest and everything in between. None of the authors glamourise, defend or justify the War, they just seek to communicate the horrors of the trenches and the front line, the pain of those left behind and the difficulties faced by all involved, the numbness of those that returned and the holes left behind by those that didn't.

The characters and perspectives are varied, forming a true cross-section of those involved in the conflict.  All stories are easy to read, tailored to the YA audience- many of the narrators are 17 or under, telling their own War experiences.  It's easy to understand the early motivations of the naive, the uninformed and those with no options, and it's easy to empathise with them, knowing that they think they are doing the right thing.  There are a lot of female characters, narrators and voices, so the anthology doesn't feel at all like it is targeting a specific gender.

Though the tone of the anthology is informative and emotional, the stories don't feel exploitative or filled with any sort of political or ideological agenda.  It's respectful and somber and in places it's darkly funny and full of the type of human spirit that always seems to shine through in times of enormous trial or hardship.  A really well put together collection of narratives that do an excellent job of conveying the tragedy and the impact of the Great War.

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