Reading about the war
I don't read much about war - I'm not a military historian - the details of combat don't interest me. All the same, I have recently been reading two commanding works about the Second World War, one fiction and the other historical narrative.
Alexander Baron's The Human Kind is a sequence of short stories that takes the readers from pre-lapsarian adolescence to demob and on to the Korean war. As you would expect from one of the most accomplished writers about war, Baron deftly looks at how conflict corrupts the human spirit and degrades all it touches. It's a wonderfully engaging book.
The Road of Bones is journalist Fergal Keane's powerfully written and impressively researched account of the siege of Kohima in north-east India, where a British and Indian garrison halted the Japanese Imperial army's advance. Fergal has gathered the memories of Japanese and Indian combatants as well as British veterans. As with Baron, Keane is also a writer of great compassion and humanity, and he recounts the intense suffering, the brutality, and also the valour and sense of comradeship.
Which gives the greater insight into the misery of war? Although I am a historian, I'd say the fictionalised account is the more revealing. It gets inside human experience in a manner the historian cannot seek to emulate. Both have their place, but good fiction
amplifies and humanises the historical narrative - the two literary traditions, at best, complement each other.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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