One-Minute Book Reviews

June 6, 2013

The Bagpipes of D-Day – ‘Highland Laddie’ at Sword Beach

Filed under: Nonfiction,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:27 pm
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Like great novelists, great war correspondents know that people make the story. One who never forgot it was Cornelius Ryan, the Dublin-born reporter and author of the classic account of the invasion of Normandy, The Longest Day: June 6, 1944 (Simon & Schuster, 1959).

Ryan’s book is less about military tactics and strategy than about their effect on people — from the German high command to a French schoolmistress and the American paratrooper who tumbled into her garden just after midnight on June 6, 1944. One of the most remarkable characters in The Longest Day is Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, the Scottish brigade commander who, with his bagpiper and fellow commandos, went ashore Sword Beach. This paragraph from the book describes the scene:

“As the commandos touched down on Sword, Lord Lovat’s piper, William Millin, plunged off his landing craft into water up to his armpits. He could see smoke piling up from the beach ahead and hear the crump of exploding mortar shells. As Millin floundered toward shore, Lovat shouted at him, ‘Give us “Highland Laddie,” man!’ Waist-deep in water, Millin put his mouthpiece to his lips and splashed through the surf, the pipes keening crazily. At the water’s edge, oblivious to the gunfire, he halted and, parading up and down the beach, piped the commandos ashore. The men streamed past him, and mingling with the whine of bullets and the screams of shells came the wild skirl of the pipes as Millin now played, ‘The Road to the Isles.’ ‘That’s the stuff, Jock,’ yelled a commando. Said another, ‘Get down, you mad bugger.’”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

June 6, 2008

D-Day Books – Remembering June 6, 1944

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:22 am
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“Eisenhower revealed a greatness of spirit as Supreme Commander and military leader of the Alliance which it is difficult to imagine being matched by another general.”
— From Max Hastings in Victory in Europe: D-Day to V-E Day

I wanted to write today about The Longest Day, Cornelius Ryan’s great account of the invasion of Normandy and one of my favorite books about World War II. But the library didn’t have a copy I could use to check a few quotes (though it had the movie version, memorable chiefly for a performance by Ernest Borgnine).

Nor did the library have two other books I’d considered: Overlord, by Max Hastings, whose recent Retribution I admired greatly, and Stephen Ambrose’s D Day June 6, 1944, which lacks the narrative power of The Longest Day but which many critics liked more than I did. The library did have Six Armies in Normandy, by the distinguished military historian John Keegan. But that one seemed to be less about the June 6 naval invasion than the subsequent land battles and was also a more technical book than I was looking for.

So I came home with Victory in Europe: D-Day to V-E Day (Little, Brown, 1985) a coffee-table book with a text by Max Hastings, color photographs by the director George Stevens and an introduction by George Stevens, Jr. This passage deals with the role of General Dwight D. Eisenhower in the invasion:

“Much criticism was thrust upon Eisenhower during the war and after its conclusion for his failings as a soldier, and indeed even his admirers concede that he was no battlefield commander. Yet throughout the 1944–1945 campaign, Eisenhower revealed a greatness of spirit as the Supreme Commander and military leader of the Alliance which it is difficult to imagine being matched by another general. Nowhere was this seen to greater advantage than during the critical D-Day launching conferences of 3 and 4 June, when the weather seemed to threaten the fulfillment of all the Allies’ hopes. [Britain’s Field Marshal Bernard] Montgomery, in one of the major misjudgments of his career, urged that the landing should go ahead on 5 June. Given the difficulties that occurred in better weather on the 6th, it seems possible that disaster could have befallen the Allies had they gone ahead a day earlier. As it was, Eisenhower alone assumed the vast responsibility first, for postponing the invasion on the 5th and also committing his vast force to another day of confinement on their ships; and second, for setting the invasion in motion, gambling hugely on the accuracy of Group-Captain Stagg’s prediction of a weather ‘window’ on the 6th. ‘I’m quite positive we must give the order,’ he said at the meeting at 9:45 p.m. on 4 June. ‘I don’t like it, but there it is … I don’t see how we can do anything else.’”

[Note: Fans of military history, what is your favorite D-Day book? In this post I’ve mentioned several of the best known (especially those by Ryan, Keegan and Ambrose). Have I missed any that you would recommend?]

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 20, 2008

Annie Ernaux’s Modern French Classics, ‘A Man’s Place’ and ‘A Woman’s Story’

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:04 am
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A prize-winning author recalls her parents’ lives in Normandy before and after World War II

A Man’s Place. By Annie Ernaux. Ballantine, 103 pp., varied prices, paperback. A Woman’s Story. By Annie Ernaux. Seven Stories, 96 pp., $8.95, paperback. Both translated from the French by Tanya Leslie.

By Janice Harayda

Annie Ernaux’s spare autobiographical books are remarkable for many things. One of them is their brevity. They typically have fewer than 100 pages, yet are so rich in perception that they have earned the status of modern classics in France.

In the U.S. Ernaux’s reputation rests largely on two books about her parents that are often described as autobiographical novels but resemble high stylized memoirs. Both are partly about how sex roles and social class shaped the lives of residents of a village in Normandy in the decades before and after World War II. They are also about how Ernaux, at once grateful for and alienated from her background, felt “torn between two identities” after she received the university education that her parents lacked.

A Man’s Place is about the life and sudden death of her father, a shopkeeper and café owner whom people called “simple” or “humble” but who had a complexity suggested by a telling incident: “One day he said to me proudly: ‘I have never given you cause for shame.” The sequel, A Woman’s Story, is similarly brief and evocative but, because of its subject, may hold more appeal for Americans.

After her husband’s death, Ernaux’s mother developed the disease the French call la maladie d’Alzheimer and suffered alternately from confusion and a terrified comprehension of her plight. She remembered that she had to turn off the light when she left a room but forgot how to do it, so “she climbed onto a chair and tried to unscrew the bulb.”

Ernaux describes all of this with an austere restraint reminiscent of the best work of Muriel Spark, always providing just enough detail to suggest greater depths. She tells us that her mother, as her Alzheimer’s become worse, wrote to a friend, “Dear Paulette, I am still lost in my world of darkness.”

Best line: From A Woman’s Story: “Books were the only things she handled with care,” Ernaux says of her mother. “She washed her hands before touching them.”

Worst line: Tanya Leslie’s translations capture well the stylistic purity of Ernaux’s prose. But her use of a conspicuously British English at times results in sentences that break the French mood, such as this line from A Man’s Place: “Ah here comes the lass.”

Published: 1993 (Ballantine paperback of A Man’s Place). 2003 (Seven Stories paperback of A Woman’s Story www.sevenstories.com/book/?GCOI=58322100333250).

Furthermore: A Man’s Place won the Prix Renaudot, the French equivalent of the Pulitzer. Ernaux lives in France. A Woman’s Story was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

Janice Harayda is an award-winning journalist been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle www.bookcritics.org. She would like to expand One-Minute Book Reviews to include podcasts, broadcasts and other services, such as online book discussion groups or forums in “real time,” and is looking for a home for this blog that would make it possible to provide these.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved
www.janiceharayda.com

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