Top critical review
13 of 16 people found this helpful
on 12 December 2011
I've read this little book a dozen times and it never fails to bring a lump to my throat. Why then, have I only given it three stars? All will be explained.
The original document on which this is based was seven pages of ratty typescript, handed out to American servicemen on the boat over in 1942. This reprint has, for reasons of style rather than authenticity, been printed on fuzzy brown woodchip paper and covered with the sort of brown paper one wraps parcels in.
Other Yanks had already come over, and judging by what this batch are all told repeatedly NOT to do, one can tell what problems had been encountered by them, and by their hosts. The "Instructions" were written by a very Anglophile American - we have a feeling here of a real love of Britain, not simply a politician trying to be diplomatic. What is rather shocking is his assumption (based, we must presume, on experience) that American servicemen will be arrogant, insensitive, rude, greedy and wasteful; that they will chuck their weight around, sneer at the state of war-torn Britain, criticise almost everything they encounter, and hold forth at length about how they won the "last" war and will now proceed to win this one for us.
All this is, of course, delightful reading to those who find modern Americans arrogant, insensitive, rude etc etc, who despise American culture and distrust American politics - a group which I have to confess I belong to. This is the Britain of "Foyles War"; a land of dirty trains, ghastly food, darned socks and quiet everyday heroism. It's good for "the youth of today" to realise how much their grandparents did without, but the freeview channels already bombard us with The War for hours every day. Why are we still so obsessed, so seduced? I am as guilty as anyone; I watch it all, while still wondering why.
I am not sure, however enjoyable it may be, that this book is a Good Thing. It gives me a wonderful warm feeling inside, but then so does gin. It panders to all that is worst in us; not, I hasten to add, honest patriotism, but a sort of self-indulgent nostalgia which is essentially fake, like the England of TV's Miss Marple. Life during the Second World War was grim and desperate; yes, there was great camaraderie and the human spirit triumphed, but we shouldn't hanker after something which we wouldn't actually want to go through.
On a more picky note, why this brown paper? Why not a cover which actually LOOKS like it's from the 1940s? And why not, when the book is so small anyway, use a decent size type and proper black ink so daft old farts like me can read it more easily?