Top positive review
27 people found this helpful
Highly recommendable, yet highly emotional, reading
on 31 March 2002
This book contains hundreds of beautifully written letters, dated from 1913 to 1918. All are to, from or about Vera Brittain, her fiancée Roland Leighton, her brother Edward Brittain and their two friends, Victor Richardson and Geoffrey Thurlow. This time reveals the development of World War 1, but more the suffer and horror endured by the four young men in and out of the trenches.
"Nothing in the papers, not the most vivid and heart rending descriptions, have made me realise the war like your letters."
This passage, written by Vera Brittain to Roland Leighton as he acted as an officer in the trenches, is just one of many containing so much truth. Nothing has made me realise the war like these letters - so much is contained within them. More striking than the visible horrors of war is the raw emotion and pain of such perfect relationships as they are torn apart in such hideous circumstances. Through this intrusion into five people's lives via these breathtaking letters, we witness them growing together simply to be blown apart suddenly, unjustly, by shellfire and sniper bullets.
The five people featured are all academics at Oxford. None of them have completed their time their when the war begins, and Vera Brittain has not even started. All of them, then, are people of 'words rather than action', and had not formally considered military life. Vera becomes a V.A.D nurse after her first year at Oxford because she cannot stand being useless any longer whilst those that she loved were suffering on the country's behalf. All of the men act with the highest nobility by heading to the front as soon as they can, and becoming respected and courageous leaders. All of the characters are so incredibly brave and admirable as the situation, making the outcome more tragic and the enhancing the feeling that the men deserve to live, and that Vera deserves them to live for her. As Edward puts it, the loss of friends means that "whatever was the value in life has all tumbled down like a house of cards."
If the same plot had been used in fiction, I would have hated the book. It would have come across as over the top in its sentiment. The honesty, emotion and pain contained in it would have come across as almost unrealistic, and the tragedy would have been just too tragic - to the point of trivialising the true horror. However, because the letters, the emotion and the pain were all real as this was written, the book does the direct opposite. In this case, it seems that truth is far, far sadder than fiction.