CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 15 . . . . March 28, 2003
And in the Morning.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2003.
198 pp., pbk. & cl., $7.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (cl.)..
ISBN 1-55337-348-0 (pbk.), ISBN 1-55337-400-2 (cl.).
Great Britain. Army. Highland Light Infantry, 16th-Fiction.
World War, 1914-1918-Juvenile fiction.
7 and up / Ages 12 and up.
by Alexander Gregor.
I should have thought
the wounded would have been happy to be home for a well-deserved
rest, but they just looked tired and downcast. Most shambled along
with heads down, faces yellowish and ghostlike, eyes surrounded
by bags of skin and cheeks hanging limply. Only their eyes darted
about, not resting on any one thing very long.
One man I found
particularly disturbing. He passed close by me and our eyes met.
His were a deep grey, but they had a haunted, distant look. We were
only a few feet apart, yet he did not see me. His focus was on something
far more distant than the physical world around him. What horrors
was he seeing? Frightening as his face was, I recognized that faraway
look – it was Mother’s look in the asylum. Will I look
like Mother and this poor soldier after I have been in battle?
history courses have not done a particularly good job in dealing with
an issue central to the contemporary world - war. Beginning with World
War I, war became global and something that affected civilians every
bit as much as combatants. An understanding of its nature and causes
became something which should be part of every person’s general
education. Compendia of events and facts are of obvious antiquarian
interest for many, but for the purposes of general education, the
pressing questions have to do with the broader human dimension: what
draws ordinary people into mass movements? What prompts societies
to follow leaders – elected or otherwise – into war? What
does the experience of war do to human relationships, values, and
outlooks? The historically faithful novel is a particularly effective
tool for posing and answering those questions, and in this case the
skilled hand of an accomplished writer has given us a powerful and
moving account. It takes some courage to enter the lists of World
War I novelists; that group inarguably has produced the finest body
of war literature in the Western World. But, as John Wilson has observed,
that literature is primarily the literature of adults (adults who
were undeniably young during their experience of conflict, but who
are able to look back to it from the perspective of later years).
In recasting the tale from the perspective of a boy who never in fact
is able to reach the technical age of majority - although ironically
becoming by his death at 17 much more of an adult than those considerably
older who escaped the conflict – Wilson is able to portray the
changing outlook of his protagonist in the actual course of combat
rather than allow him to reassemble his transformation in the light
of hindsight. That developing outlook, starting from the naive chauvinism
and visions of glory as war broke out, and moving on to doubt, confusion
and cynicism as the criminal incompetence of the war leaders lays
waste his friends and family, is brought to a shocking end as an innocent
case of shell-shock results in his senseless trial and execution as
central figure of the story – Jim Hay - comes from a modest
Scottish background, and so reflects nicely the experience of the
“common citizen” in attempting to understand the ambiguous
and often inconsistent bits of contrived and controlled information
that come through about the nature and progress of the war. (The author
does a nice job of conveying that cacophony of information and misinformation
by interspersing “news clippings” through the text.) Hay’s
experience allows the reader to understand how someone could be swept
up in a war frenzy, and then kept in a state of continuing uncertainty
– until experience and a dawning cynicism allow some inferences
about what is really happening. For the protagonist, that was to be
followed by the onset of doubt about the cause itself, the values
with which he had been raised, and the leaders and system he had been
taught to trust (and which ultimately betrayed him).
much of the background the novel presents, it follows the typical
format of the genre by very effectively portraying the dirt and boredom
of the trenches, the danger of patrols and futility of attacks, the
numbing horror of shelling, and the gradual desensitization to death
and brutality. Through the insertion of letters and diary extracts,
the human dimension – of love, of family attachments, of poetry
in the midst of despair – is maintained; and it is always clear
that what is happening is not to a mass, but to a collection of unique
some respects, the novel has to do with the almost unmatched stupidity
and waste that characterized World War I. But more generally and more
importantly, it is a depiction of the nature and effect of war per
se. In both these dimensions, John Wilson has provided a particularly
powerful and effective teaching instrument. It is not a condemnation
of war, but rather a portrayal of just what it means at the human
level. Any young reader who follows the tale through will emerge with
an understanding different from and far richer than that any history
book could provide.
Formerly a professor in the Faculty of Education, the University of
Manitoba, Alexander Gregor remains a history buff.
on this title or this review, send mail to email@example.com.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal
use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any
other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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