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How Many Miles to Babylon? [Paperback]

Jennifer Johnston
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 Jan 2010

Alec and Jerry shouldn't have been friends: Alec's life was one of privilege, while Jerry's was one of toil. But this hardly mattered to two young men whose shared love of horses brought them together and whose whole lives lay ahead of them.

When war breaks out in 1914, both Jerry and Alec sign up - yet for quite different reasons. On the fields of Flanders they find themselves standing together, but once again divided: as officer and enlisted man.

And it is there, surrounded by mud and chaos and death, that one of them makes a fateful decision whose consequences will test their friendship and loyalty to breaking point.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; Re-issue edition (7 Jan 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141046961
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141046969
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 12.5 x 19 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 128,421 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Jennifer Johnston was born in Dublin in 1930 and is one of our foremost Irish writers. Her fifteen novels include The Old Jest, winner of the Whitbread Prize, The Captains and the Kings, winner of the Evening Standard Best First Novel Award and the Yorkshire Post Award for Best Book of the Year and Shadows on Our Skin which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Her novel Fools Mortals was published in 2007. She lives in County Derry.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This novel, written by Jennifer Johnston tells the tale of two young men from Ireland, one a Catholic peasant, and the other, the son of a Protestant landowner. The book goes on to tell how,they forged a life long friendship, and followed each other to the ends of the earth, all set against the stark sectarian background of pre independent Ireland. The plot develops around Alexander, the protestant, and how his relationship with his mother drove him to leave for the war and Jerry his Catholic friend, who dreams of an independent Ireland. The book, paints a clear vivid and truly disgusting picture of the hardship and suffering endured by all men who went to fight in World War 1, whether they were rich or poor, hero or villain. This novel is a truly compelling account of both Irish life, and life in the war, at the early part of the 20th century. This book contrasts strained family relationships with iron clad friendships, the comfort of the "Big House" with the squalor of the trenches. In short this book is a vivid, startling and precise reflection on life during World War 1
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
This short novel holds a few surprises well worth waiting for. Written by the Dublin born Ms Johnston, now living across the border in Derry, it examines the Irish political landscape,

through a personal not a political lens as it follows the fortunes of Alex from the Big House and Jerry, an Irish peasant.

Written by Alex as a first person narrative it gives the reader a distinct feeling of getting up close and personal. You feel like you're eavesdropping.

Truth to tell nothing much happens for a while. A sense of ennui begins to set in for the reader mirroring the lifestyle of the two young protagonists. At times you wonder if it is just another tableau of the Anglo- Irish class and their peasant peers. World War 1 is the backdrop.

A surprising element for me was finding Patrick Pearse , leader of the Irish 1916 revolution, coming to life in its pages. Pearse is so often nothing more than a relic of some very distant past.

The book takes off when the two young men enlist and set off to serve at the Front.

Johnston never resorts to hyperbole, yet she manages to convey a very real sense of the horror and degradation of the trenches of World War 1.Both young men are so credible. Neither of them especially motivated by lofty political ideas but rather like most people stumbling along through life's events trying to make some sense of it all.

But no cosseted life in the Big House nor the discipline of Army life could adequately prepare the two young protagonists for the dilemma they face towards the end.This was a veritable crisis of conscience where nothing less than a personal response would do.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A miracle of love between two men in 1914-15 22 Oct 2012
Format:Paperback
That's the most beautiful love story I have ever read. The love between two men who are able to love each other up to the gift of death, given or received.

Do not get fooled by the Babylon title. It has nothing to do with the nursery rhyme it refers to, at least not directly. It is a metaphor of death when you give it to someone as a present and he gives it back to you as a responding present. Shared death like a dual return ticket to "Babylon." That's love for these two men who met when boys, Alexander and Jeremiah. They met in Ireland, on the shore of a lake in the country estate of an Irish landowner. Alexander is the son of this landowner and Jeremiah is the son of a poor farm worker on one farm of this landowner. This is Romeo and Juliet for two young men in the dramatic context of the First World War. But please do not make a mistake about the situation: the two boys are not in any way gay or whatever along that line. Though it would not change one iota to the tale and its beauty.

Ireland is still occupied by the English. This situation is in the background with Jeremiah going to the war to learn how to use a gun and Alexander to satisfy his cannibalistic mother. The two enlist together to remain together but Alexander is made a junior officer and Jeremiah is made a simple private probably of the lowest class. And Alexander will be told several times that he has to sever the relation with Jeremiah because an officer does not mix with the simple soldiers. Keep a distance mind you, you are officers, even if only junior officers. Of course the Irish junior officer is shadowed with an English junior officer to make sure things go fine.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent - a book to read and re-read 10 Dec 2008
By Lesley
Format:Paperback
I first read this book at school for GCSE English - and now, 15 years later, I still regularly read it. If ever I find myself searching for a book to read (all those bookworms like me out there will know the feeling - you want a book that will grab you, you want to lose yourself in it's story) I glance in the bookcase and there it is - I find myself reaching for it, I am still engrossed in it, I am still moved by it. Other reviewers have touched on political aspects of the story, the harrowing narrative of the First World War, yes, it's all in there - but the part that gets me is the depth of the friendship between Alec and Jerry, their connection, their loyalty to each other, that's what keeps me gripped everytime - an emotional read.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars good
got it for my daughter as part of her course work for school. book was in good condition. she seem to be interested by the story.
Published 3 months ago by Samatha
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic read
A beautifully written novel. I would thoroughly recommend it. The depiction of the first world war is very convincing. As is the relationship across the class/cultural divide.
Published 11 months ago by Mr J A Dresner
2.0 out of 5 stars Knocking heads together
I really got more and more annoyed with the two leading protagonists in this book. First of all I aimed my ire at the mother, but by the time the two men got to the Front, I was... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Mrs. S. G. H. Green
5.0 out of 5 stars Babylon?
Yet another First World War novel but an excellent one. First heard clips when it was book at Bedtime on Radio 4. Had to read it and not disappointed. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Mr Ernest R Kellow
4.0 out of 5 stars good book.
was reading it in school during English class however, I found it interesting, while most of the 'school books' are boring. Surprised me! :):)
Published 15 months ago by Aneta
4.0 out of 5 stars Ireland and the First World War
Jennifer Johnston does not seem to be as revered among contemporary Irish writers in quite the way she should be. Read more
Published on 22 Nov 2011 by Alexis Paladin
3.0 out of 5 stars disappointed
I expected more of this book after reading the reviews, but was left somewhat disappointed. I found the style of writing clunky in places, and, particularly in the latter half of... Read more
Published on 12 July 2011 by Mstuftybufty
5.0 out of 5 stars A heart-wrenching First World War story
With the huge popularity of other more recent World War One literature, such as "Birdsong", "Regeneration" etc. Read more
Published on 7 Feb 2008 by S. Barnes
5.0 out of 5 stars Quick but enjoyable!
I just LOVE this book to pieces. I,too, like some of the other reviewers had to read it as part of my english course in the Leaving cert but it was oceans away from the normal... Read more
Published on 15 Jan 2007 by Celtise
5.0 out of 5 stars this book is simply awesome
I must say I was first put off by the small amount of pages in the book(156 pages) but after reading it, it didn't make a blind bit of differance,It's simply amazing, a real... Read more
Published on 21 Jan 2002
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