Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Review of "From Gauntlet to Overlord" by Ross Munro

In 1945, Ross Munro's war memoir "From Gauntlet to Overlord" won the Governor-General's Award for Literary Merit in nonfiction. Munro served as the Candian Press's war correspondent in Europe and North Africa. "From Gauntlet to Overlord" details Munro's time with the Canadian Army, with a specific focus on the Normandy invasion and the development of the distinctly Canadian army.

As one might expect, Munro writes in a clear, concise style and includes a nice amount of details. Munro has a more balanced style than I expect from war correspondents, as they generally establish close relationships with the soldiers they come to know, which influences their writing. While it is clear that Munro had some close friendships with certain Canadian soldiers (which he is transparent about), he also manages to write a very balanced account. He humanizes all of his subjects including enemy soldiers. In addition, he does not shy away from the destructivness of war.He also provides nice insight into the unique position of the war correspondent, entirely dependent on the military, and yet clearly separate. Munro relies on the army completely for access, information, and even the ability to transmit his articles, yet he strives to maintain a level of objectivity.

Overall, Munro depicts the war honestly and with humour and humility. He makes his surroundings, motivations, and interests very clear, and he writes without artifice. Anyone who is interested in a first person perspective on the Second World War, and the Canadian Army in particular would be well-served by Munro's book as would anyone interested in the reality of the war correspondent.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Review of "We Keep a Light"

The next book I am reviewing is "We Keep a Light" by Evelyn M. Richardson. I skipped "The War: Fourth Year" as it is the 4th volume in a series (which I would eventually like to read), so I hope to come back to it at a later point. The fiction winner for 1945, "Two Solitudes" by Hugh MacLennan is a Canadian classic, which for once, I have already read. I highly recommend it as both an excellent novel and as an important piece of Canadian culture. References to "two solitudes" are still very common in contemporary commentary.

"We Keep a Light" was one of two nonfiction winners in 1945. The book depicts family life at a small island lighthouse in Nova Scotia. For those interested in such a subject, "We Keep a Light" is ideal. However, for the general reader, I think that this book is wanting. First off, Richardson's perspective is very family-focused. She spends a lot of time talking about her children and husband and she includes a plethora of minute (and I would add inane and irrelevant) details. Secondly, there is no clear structure. While the book is roughly chronological, Richardson often goes back and forth in time, which can be disorienting.

One gets the impression with this book that it is simply a very proud mother extolling her family's superiority by surviving and thriving in a difficult situation.

Some may find such a work appealing, but I did not.

Review of Partner in Three Worlds

"Partner in Three Worlds" by Dorothy Duncan is an interesting choice for nonfiction winner. It is written in the 1st person from the perspective of Jan, a Czech who fights in the Canadian army to liberate his homeland in the Second World War. The bulk of the book describes Jan's life in then Czechoslovakia, where he is born, rises to prominence at a bank, and his subsequent fall due to an impetuous and ill-suited marriage. However, he manages to re-establish himself eventually as an artistic glass salesman, and eventually his move to North America. Duncan drew on an intimage knowledge of Jan through multiple conversations and one gets the impression that she is recounting Jan's stories verbatim as she often describes his thoughts and feelings (from a first person perspective).

One imagines that Jan must have been a great storyteller, as the book is very entertaining. It is difficult at times to remember that it's a work of non fiction rather than a novel. The book does do an excellent job of depicting Prague society in the early 20th century and additionally, the tensions that emerged in the lead up to the Second World War. There are also some excellent scenes near the end where Jan compares North Americans and Europeans.

Despite its unique narrative style (or perhaps beacause of it), the book works very well at both entertaining and informing.