April 26th, 2008

Our Longest Days: A People's History of the Second World War by The Writers of Mass Observation edit

Ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous this wonderful piece of social history is presented chronologically month by month from September 1939 through to September 1945. Fifteen British diarists, nine men and six women chart the passage of life throughout the war years. Their locations range from Blackpool to Dorset and Barrow – in – Furness to Streatham. The fifteen were mostly literate and middle class but, as the editor points out they were not, nor did they pretend to be representative of the British people as a whole. Twenty three black and white photos compliment the entries and are a fitting addition to this wonderful piece of history.
As we read through the entries we learn of the hopes and fears, the trivia of day to day living, political thoughts and in one or two instances some reflective thinking upon the war. One such reflective comment is included from the May 1943 diary of an RAF corporal who was a trainer of recruits at Warrington. Following the dam buster raids he reflects, ‘rushing water cannot distinguish between a factory and a hospital, cannot distinguish between between soldiers and children. I know this is total war but are we to abandon all standards of mercy and humanity? An act like this makes us all barbarians.’
This book will appeal to a wide variety of readers. At one level there is the fascination of the diaries but there is also a wide range of additional material including the biographies of the diarists, along with a note on the selections. For those wishing to broaden their historical knowledge endnotes explain more fully some of the events to which the diarists refer. In addition there is a comprehensive further reading section, including websites and an excellent index.
Tragically and sadly the editor Sandra Koa Wing lost her fight against cancer in May 2007 at the age of twenty eight years. Reading her blog and many tributes her delightful joie de vivre shines through throughout. She edited an absorbing book that may be read at many levels - I would highly commend it to fellow people watchers.

17 / 64 books. 27% read!


The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Winner of the Penguin/Orange Reader’s Group Prize 2006 and 2007 this book was a compelling read. Ranging from the cold Afghanistan winter of 1975 with friends Amir and Hassan in Kabul flying kites to the plight of refugees fleeing to Pakistan in the most appalling of circumstances we follow Amir to America and finally his return to his homeland in 2001.
At times it is an almost unbearably sad and tragic tale. There are striking contrasts between terror and tenderness, love and the cowardice and vengefulness of bullying. The main theme is one of ‘giving’ in boundless amounts yet not asking for anything in return as exemplified in Hassan’s friendship for Amir. Through these characters and the narrative the reader comes face to face with many of the challenges and tragedies that have beset Afghanis both in their homeland and in the immigrant San Francisco community
Rahim Khan, an old man by the end of the book promises ‘there is a way to be good again’ – a phrase that was borne out throughout the book as the characters journey through the decades. This was an excellent compelling book that combined depth of character, plot, setting and context into a riveting read.

18 / 64 books. 28% read!