Beauty And The Sorrow by Peter Englund
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Beauty and the Sorrow is appropriate in both its slightly pretentious title and its subtitle as an “intimate history” of the first world war. Pretentious may be the wrong word as this book is very much filled with beauty and with much, much sorrow. Tracing about twenty lives through the events of those years and revealing history only as it affect each of them (though Englund does provide witty and informed footnotes to hint at wider events.), this is an ideal fusing of historical narrative and novelistic technique. The non-fiction novel that was so sought in the sixties realized. Lightness of style and clearheaded prose (in translation) makes this addictively readable. Most discussion and portrayal of this war is dominated by the grim imagery of the western front, while not ignored in the book, a wider canvas is employed giving all the forgotten theaters their due, such as the destruction of Serbia, genocide of the Armenians, the terror of the Zeppelin bombing raids,the eastern front, the horrific siege of Kut, bloody battle for Gaza, and the absurd guerilla campaign in Africa. The cast of “characters” is varied and provides piece by piece a very epic and thorough history without losing it’s, for lack of a better word, intimacy. Whatever name you lay on this war, for all its cruelty and pointlessness, birthed the twentieth century and thus the world we inherited. Coming up on the hundredth year anniversary of its start I’m sure it will be much discussed, and this book should make the top shelf of books to turn to. A marvelous piece of history and literature.
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