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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Full of fascinating detail, but disappointly lacking a unifying narrative
on 8 April 2014
I was excited by this book; both my grandfathers became POW's in April 1918, my wife's grandfather was a regular Sergeant in the Cheshire Regiment and was captured on 24th August 1914 at Mons, so was a POW for almost the entire War. So, with three WW1 POW's in the family, I was looking for something to tell me what their life must have been like. In that respect this book did not disappoint; it is the product of massive research and comprises a vivid collection of the personal experiences of dozens of POW's, organised under chapter headings that track the experience of the POW, through capture, transportation to the camp, camp life itself, resistance, passing the time, escaping, liberation and the return home for those who survived. As such it provides vivid descriptions of what it was like for those unfortunate enough to experience life and/or death as a POW: the brutality, the starvation, the forced labour, the boredom, the incredible challenges, the often life-long aftermath, are all brought to life by John Lewis-Stempel's excellent writing, frequently quoting their own words. But the disappointing aspect is that there was little sense of an all-encompassing narrative, and especially of developing more complete stories of the individuals mentioned or quoted, some of whom seem to come and go in a single sentence or paragraph. So, the book seems to be a collection of anecdotes, organised under thematic chapter headings; they create a sort of verbal collage and paint an effective picture, but a picture of the aggregated experience of all, rather than the entire personal experience of some. Perhaps at this distance in time what I had hoped for is not possible and probably is done in other biographies, in which case my criticism may be unjust and I would apologise for that. But this book is very close to being a great book and therein lies my disappointment with it. Nevertheless, I found it to be a very worthwhile read and would recommend it to those interested in the subject.