“1915. The year itself looks sepia and soiled-muddied like its pictures. In the snapshots everyone at first seems timid-lost-irresolute. Boys and men squinting at the camera.”
ebook, 216 pages.
Read from November 28 to December 02, 2016.
I stumbled across this book while browsing Goodreads one day. I have read a few books by Findley and after reading the description of the book I was hooked and knew I had to read it. I am a sucker for WWI stories and poetry. There was something so personal about this war. Men fought in closer combat and gas was used as prominent and horrific tactic. The trauma from this war was intimate and I find the stories about this war very moving.
Robert Ross is only seventeen years old when he leaves Canada to join the war. Out of sheer luck and by managing to stay alive, Robert is promoted and is responsible for the lives of other men. Despite his youth, Robert has witnessed and experienced things that absolutely no one should ever have to. In an attempt to to save his sanity and humanity, Robert makes a brazen decision with substantial consequence. Some call him a villain, others a hero but ultimately there are none when it comes to the realities of war.
“I still maintain that an ordinary human being has the right to be horrified by a mangled body seen on an afternoon walk.”
The book draws you in right from the beginning in that it opens with the last scene and then takes you back before Robert left Canada. The story also had a few narrators, which I found jarring, but it did lend to interesting perspectives about Robert. Some of the scenes people are actually being interviewed about Robert and the act that he committed and of course you will not know exactly what Robert did until the very end.
Findley is great at descriptions. Whether it is a character or a scene, he makes it very easy to envision. There was one particular scene that made my heart race and my jaw drop. Robert is leading a group of men out in the open when he spots some chlorine gas that is about to hit them. He orders his men to put on their gas mask but the men inform him that despite them being standard issue, their group was not give one. With only seconds to make a decision, Robert orders his men to pee on pieces of fabric and hold them to their mouths while lying face down in the mud until the gas passes. This act of brilliance on Robert’s part saved all of his men. I was absolutely glued to the pages reading this scene. While this one was my favourite there are many others that are also captivating.
In terms of the act that Robert committed, I sympathize with his decision. After everything that Robert had been through, it almost made sense to do what he did. It was an act of humanity to prove that he still had it in him but it was also at the cost of humanity, which, is the epitome of war.
I would highly recommend this novel for drama, historical-fiction, and for those that enjoy war time plots and dynamic characters.