Monday, March 14, 2011

Three Day Road

Three Day Road
By: Joseph Boyden

Novels about World War One. Nothing like a book about a devastating human tragedy while watching another human tragedy play itself out on the news (My heart goes out to the people of Japan during this time of crisis). I know it's odd, but I like books about World War One for a few reasons. First, I studied history in college and World War One was always my favorite topic. Second, I've read so many WWI books that they are now a source of comfort for me (I know, men going "over the top" into a hail of machine gun fire is hardly comfort. I can't explain it). Third, I like novels about war.

Three Day Road is a worthy addition to any reading list. The two main characters, Xavier and Elijah, are James Bay Cree from Northern Ontario who spend their time in the bush hunting game and dreaming of their future. When they decide to march into to war for Canada, and into the world of the Europeans, in 1914, they have no idea what is in store. The novel explores the relationship between these friends as it tries to survive the scourge of war, death, tradition, modernity, history, and betrayal. The subplot involving Xavier's aunt, Niska and the story of the Windigo-killer is equally intriguing. For fans of Can-Lit, this is quite the novel. But then again, like I said... I like novels about war.

I like them so much I have actually taken the time to figure out which books I've read about war, what wars they were about and which one was my favorite. This is not an exhaustive list. I didn't include books about ancient battles (like the Iliad) or early medeival battles. Nor did I include non-fiction. I realize there are large, gaping holes in my reading so there is no need to tell me that I've never read A Farewell to Arms. I know. This is about war novels I've read to date. So without further ado, here are my favorite novels about war in chronological order by war:

The Hundred Year's War: Azincourt by Bernard Cornwell

Well, this one wins by default because, as far as I can tell, it is the only book about the Hundred Year's War that I have ever read so it goes without saying that it must be my favorite as well. But even if I had read more, I would suspect this one would be close to the top. Bernard Cornwell is an excellent writer of historical fiction.

Revolutionary War: Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

I was quite surprised to find out that Johnny Tremain remains the only book about the Revolutionary War that I have ever read. I racked my brain, scoured internet lists and looked through my bookshelves but as far as I can ascertain, it stands alone for the time being. It's a good book. So good, in fact, that they should have called it: Johnny Deformed.

American Civil War: Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

With all due respect to the Red Badge of Courage, Frazier's novel about a Civil War defector walking home with the vague hope of seeing a woan who he had only seen once was infinitely superior. Frazier gave the reader such a poignant cross-section of America at the time, especially along the border states that Inman covers during the novel. The relentless tone of uncertainty and danger is underscored by such desperate hope. Wonderfully written.


Lincoln: Gore Vidal
The Red Badge of Courage: Stephen Crane

World War One: All Quiet On the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Having disclosed that I love books about World War One, you might assume that choosing just one favorite would be difficult but it is not. All Quiet on the Western Front is still, to this day, the only book I finished and began re-reading immedaitely. I've read this book more times than any other book (other than books I teach in the classroom, of course). It is simply the best account of the war I have ever read. It takes the reader straight into the trenches and holds no punches. The part in which Paul is desperately trying to survive a bombadment. He seeks shelter in an old cemetary and uses a disenterred coffin as a shelter against shrapnel. The image of re-killing the dead struck a nerve with me. Such a brutal, mechanical war that they had to kill individuals multiple times. This book deserves re-reads.

Runners Up:

The Wars: Timothy Findley
Johnny Got His Gun: Dalton Trumbo
Generals Die in Bed: Charles Yale Harrison
Storm of Steel: Ernst Junger
Three Day Road: Joseph Boyden
Old Soldiers Never Die: Frank Richards
Mrs. Dalloway: Virginia Woolf

World War Two: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

There is no book published before or since that captures the absurdity of war as Catch-22. A bomber pilot named Yossarian needs fifty missions to be grounded but each time he approaches that number, his superiors increase it by five. He is at his wits end and wants out of the war. He learns of a loophole in which a pilot can be permenantly grounded if he is certified crazy by a doctor. But crazy men don't know they are crazy. Any pilot that visits a doctor and claims to be crazy must, logically, be perfectly sane. Since a man can only be deemed crazy via a visit to a doctor, it is categorically inpossible to be grounded. This book went a long way toward changing public opinion on the military-industrial complex and the image of the military. Black comedy gold.

Runners Up:

The English Patient: Michael Ondaatje
The Book Thief: Marcus Zuzak
Slaughterhouse Five: Kurt Vonnegut
Don't You Know There's a War On?: avi
Famous Last Words: Timothy Findley
A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Vietnam: The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh

Talk about hopelessness. This novel written from the perspective of a North Vietnamese soldier fighting against the Americans in the dense rain forests of Central Vietnam is bone-chillingly bleak. I read this book while I was in Vietnam (my second tour... 2004) and it offered a perspective on a war that is overwhelmingly told from the American side. The abject fear that Kien lives with from start to finish humanizes the otherwise voiceless veterans of the Vietnamese army.

Runner Up:

The Quiet American: Graham Greene


Post a Comment