Last weekend was VE weekend, Victory in Europe and by coincidence we were in London for the weekend. So, I thought it appropriate to read a novel about WW2. I didn't give any great deal of thought to my choice of book, it was a novel passed on by a friend. And so I read The Undertaking by Audrey Magee, another first novel by an Irish author. I seem to be reading rather a lot of first novels these days and rather a lot of Irish authors.
The novel was written from the German perspective. Peter is serving with the German army, moving towards Stalingrad in a push against the Russian army. He agrees to marry purely to get some home leave and his wife agrees to the marriage to provide her with a pension and preferential living conditions. Win win for both of them. They do unexpectedly fall in love. Katherina's family circumstances improve but it is at the expense of the Jewish community, whose homes and possessions are repossessed. Peter is part of this process, helping his father in law to dispossess the Jewish people during his period of home leave. With a distance of 70 years we view the war slightly different. It is interesting to read about the war from the German point of view. The German people suffered too, the children went hungry and the women suffered deprivation and abuse too.
What made this different was the timing. We wandered around the grounds of the Imperial War Museum and watched the memorial service on behalf of the Russian people in the victory against Fascism. Apart from the British Legion, and the representative of the Russian forces, there were representatives of Russian families and children took an active part in the ceremony. It was very moving. It was also very emotional to see the veterans, both British and Russian. An elderly paratrooper in a kilt sloped off to have a sly ciggie, and he was deluged with young girls wanting to shake his hand and have their photo taken with him. After a while, I wanted to shake his hand and hug him too. This man must have been around 90 when you think about it, and so young when he served in the war. We then went into the museum and the Holocaust exhibition was so draining and emotional to walk around.
When we left I commented I really didn't want to finish my book. Any sympathy I had for Peter had disappeared , he knew what he was doing when he evicted those families. And Katharina knew exactly where her fancy clothes and baby pram came from. I did however finish the book the next morning.
We have to be careful how we address the War. It is so important to remember and to honour those who laid down their lives. Lest We Forget. Yet we shouldn't glamorise the war, the suffering the soldiers went through was horrendous, the sights they saw horrendous and some of the things they had to do were horrendous. But they did it so we could have a better life, free from tyranny. It is important to remember their hardship and to be aware that so many lives were lost, and particularly in the WW1 so many lives were lost unnecessarily. Yet, it also important to honour these soldiers, who are old now. I remember seeing veterans from the first war, old men on crutches with missing limbs, "it happened in the war" was the explanation. It is also important not to have any bitterness, we must have forgiveness and understanding. Our old enemies are now our friends. They suffered too. And then I walk round the Holocaust museum and everything is thrown into focus again. I think the key is to forgive whilst remembering.
As a bit of emotional relief I moved on to another of my favourite Cotswold murder stories, this was Trouble In The Cotswolds by Rebecca Tope. This follows the same pattern. Thea Osborne is house sitting in the Cotswolds, she feels rather a misfit in life. The wandering life of a house sitter suits her well. A murder happens in the vicinity. Well, lots of murders happen. Thea gets caught up in a few scrapes and eventually solves the murder. I do love these books.
To read next, I have oh, The Girl On The Train, or maybe The Children's Act. I seem to reading the same books as my friend Liz, only a week or two behind her! The story of life, she was always clever, bright, pretty, popular with the boys, and I was always trailing along behind her. (This will see does she really read this). I found in the boys' bookshelves a copy of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which is televised tomorrow night. Then again I might read the book I bought in Daunt books on Sunday. Between us we bought four books, and guess what, I bought another war novel.
linking up with 52 books in 52 weeks challenge