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    Book Club in a Bag

    We Will Remember

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    Remembrance Day marks a time to call to mind those who went to war, those who have lived through it, those who died, and those whose lives were and are forever changed by the far-reaching impact of war and conflict. For me, although I've read various history books examining different aspects of many conflicts, the most immediate window into a historical time period is through historical fiction. If you'd like to 'remember' through the eyes and lives of fiction, we've put together a small sampling of this vast literature to get you started.

     

     

    The Sojourn

    Andrew Krivak


    Krivak follows his revelatory memoir (A Long Retreat) with this lush, accomplished novel. After Jozef Vinich's mother dies while saving his life as an infant, Jozef and his widowed father relocate from a small Colorado mining town back to their Austrian homeland. Though Jozef's boyhood is marred by lingering feelings of abandonment, resentment, ingrained sadness, and two bullying stepbrothers, his life is enhanced by frequent dreams of his mother and a close friendship with troubled distant cousin Zlee. Both boys revel in the family hunting trips, which hone their sharpshooting abilities, expertise put to use when both go off to fight in WWI as marksmen, over Jozef's father's objections. Krivak dexterously exposes the stark, brutal realities of trench warfare, the horror of a POW camp, and the months of violent bloodshed that stole the boys' innocence. Once home from war, the author's depiction of Jozef's arduous return to life, love, and family is charged with emotion and longing, revealing this lean, resonant debut as an undeniably powerful accomplishment. (Novelist)

     

    The return of Captain John Emmett

    Elizabeth Speller

    Londoner Laurence Bartram, three years after coming home from WWI and a shell of his former self, starts to reawaken at the outset of this moving mystery debut from British classics scholar Speller (Following Hadrian). The young widower begins probing the apparent suicide of fellow veteran John Emmett—whom he remembers most vividly as a fearless schoolboy—primarily as an excuse to see Emmett's fetching sister, Mary. But as Bartram and his intrepid friend, Charles Carfax, uncover Emmett's role in the execution of a "boy officer" court-martialed for desertion—as well as discover how many others involved have subsequently met with suspicious ends—the investigation becomes compelling in its own right. It also spurs Bartram to finally confront some hard truths about himself. Though Speller eventually falters with an overreliance on coincidence, for the most part she delivers an elegant, engrossing read. (Novelist)

     

    War Comes to the Big Bend

    Zane Grey

    Prolific writer Grey (1872–1939), best known for his countless westerns, also wrote about pressing social and political issues of his day. This novel, originally serialized in 1919, takes place during WWI and addresses patriotism, immigrant tensions, labor unrest, socialist agitators, and Bolshevik saboteurs. And despite its corny 1919 dialogue, it delivers powerful commentary. Kurt Dorn is a young wheat farmer in the Columbia River basin of Washington State, in debt and in conflict with his stubborn German father and fighting the threats and intimidation of the Industrial Workers of the World, portrayed as a well-financed pseudo-labor union. The IWW intends to disrupt the wheat harvest and hamper America’s entry into the war. But Dorn is a patriot, and through force of will, fists, and gunplay, he and other patriotic farmers battle the IWW. But Kurt loses everything, including his father. In despair and desperation, he joins the army and goes to France to fight the Germans, only later realizing that his love of a woman is more important than the death he seeks. Add a kidnapping, pursuit, escape, vigilante justice, and vivid scenes of brutal trench warfare, and Grey serves up a gripping tale with a sober message. (Novelist)

     

    My Dear I Wanted to Tell You

    Louisa Young

     

     

    It’s 1907, and 11-year-old Riley Purefoy leaves his working-class home to become the benefactor of Sir Alfred Waveney. He meets Nadine, Sir Alfred’s daughter, and a relationship begins that will span both personal and global uncertainties. When the chaos of WWI erupts, Riley enlists in the army, in which he is transformed by the nightmare of war and the resulting physical and emotional scars. As Riley and his commanding officer, Peter Locke, fight for their country in the trenches, their families await their return. When a horrific injury sidelines Riley, he finds himself on a new kind of battlefield, where a lengthy and complicated rehabilitation leaves him uncertain of his and his country’s futures. Moving between the battlefields of Europe and the lives of those working and waiting at home, My Dear I Wanted to Tell You is the story of people torn apart literally and figuratively by war. Through it all, Riley Purefoy is an irresistible, deeply memorable character, whose travails bring the Great War and those who suffered from it to life. (Novelist)

     

    The Postmistress

    Sarah Blake

    To open Blake’s novel of WorldWarII and the convergence of three strong women is to enter a slipstream, so powerful are its velocity, characters, and drama. How can you resist Frankie Bard, an American journalist of gumption and vision who is bravely reporting on the Blitz from London? Her distinctive voice and audacious candor are heard on radios everywhere on the home front, including Cape Cod, where Iris James, in love for the first time at 40, keeps things shipshape at a small-town post office. The third in Blake’s triumvirate of impressive women, Emma, the waiflike wife of the town’s doctor, is not as obvious a candidate for heroism until a tragedy induces her husband to join the war effort. As Frankie risks her life to record the stories of imperiled Jews, Iris and Emma struggle to maintain order as America goes reluctantly to war. Blake raises unsettling questions about the randomness of violence and death, and the simultaneity of experience––how can people frolic on a beach while others are being murdered? Matching harrowing action with reflection, romance with pathos, Blake’s emotional saga of conscience and genocide is poised to become a best-seller of the highest echelon. (Novelist)

     

     

    Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

    Jamie Ford


    Henry Lee is a 12-year-old Chinese boy who falls in love with Keiko Okabe, a 12-year-old Japanese girl, while they are scholarship students at a prestigious private school in World War II Seattle. Henry hides the relationship from his parents, who would disown him if they knew he had a Japanese friend. His father insists that Henry wear an "I am Chinese" button everywhere he goes because Japanese residents of Seattle have begun to be shipped off by the thousands to relocation centers. This is an old-fashioned historical novel that alternates between the early 1940s and 1984, after Henry's wife Ethel has died of cancer. A particularly appealing aspect of the story is young Henry's fascination with jazz and his friendship with Sheldon, an older black saxophonist just making a name for himself in the many jazz venues near Henry's home. Other aspects of the story are more typical of the genre: the bullies that plague Henry, his lack of connection with his father, and later with his own son. Readers will care about Henry as he is forced to make decisions and accept circumstances that separate him from both his family and the love of his life. (Novelist)

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