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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A study of warmth and humanity, 26 Sep 2008
This review is from: Stranger in the House: Women's Stories of Men Returning from the Second World War (Hardcover)
One of Julie Summer's strengths as a biographer is her capacity to allow her subjects to speak for themselves - but at the same time, throughout this fine book, the reader always has a reassuring sense of the author's guiding hand.
These stories of the women so directly affected by the last war are often deeply moving, full of their humanity and strength. The author successfully conveys the complexity of their feelings, the ambivalence felt by many of these women - glad to have their menfolk back home, and yet reluctant to give up the hard-fought-for freedom and independence they had gained during the war years.
The depth and quality of research is never in question, allowing the reader to feel safe in the author's hands. The chapter on the Army Postal Service, for example, and the vital role it played in maintaining morale, was excellent: a dry subject brought vividly to life.
The author's understanding of and empathy with the awfulness of the experiences of some of the returning men is exemplified in the chapter on returning POWs from the Far East: men forever damaged by their horrendous ordeal in Japanese camps. An ordeal that was literally unspeakable - which is to say because of the understood agreement that no-one would mention those lost years afterwards, neither the men, nor their families. That so much further damage was caused to the men and to their families by this inhuman silence is movingly evoked in this section of the book.
My only reservation is that this book feels slightly incomplete - certainly as a social history study. There is a predominance of stories from soldiers serving in the Far East, and particularly those who were unfortunate enough to be taken prisoner; there is also a seeming bias towards returning officers and career soldiers. Perhaps these reflect the author's own areas of expertise - and to be fair, she never does claim this book to offer a representative section of society, nor that it is a comprehensive study of post-war British society.
Finally, I would have to say that this is a hugely readable book - the writing style and presentation is beautifully clear, warm and full of confidence. It was a pleasure to pick up, and a pity to finish it.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In safe hands..., 19 Nov 2008
By 
M. Parkes (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Stranger in the House: Women's Stories of Men Returning from the Second World War (Hardcover)
When Julie asked me if she could include my parents' story in Stranger in the House I agreed because I felt strongly that my mother's experiences, like those of tens of thousands of other women, deserved our attention. Julie has been sensitive and thorough in her research and she's done a marvellous job of shedding light on this little known aspect of wartime experiences. There is much we can learn from these stories and it is important, I believe, that each contributor is allowed to speak for themselves. My parents and I were in safe hands.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Evocative stories, 18 Sep 2008
By 
Janie Hampton (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Stranger in the House: Women's Stories of Men Returning from the Second World War (Hardcover)
The moving and beautifully told story of the way that women - wives, sisters and mothers- coped when their menfolk came home from the war, often very traumatised and difficult to live with. Real life experiences, with lessons for us all, even now.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Overview of Effects of WW2, 7 May 2014
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I bought this book to explore the effects of WW2 on the women who stayed at home. It was a fascinating read and I used it to support a military history assignment. This book explores the social and emotional issues of men being demobilised and the effects it had within the home. A great book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars World War 2 history personalized, 27 Oct 2013
By 
Robert A. Bowers "Bowers" (Chicago, Illinois United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Stranger in the House: Women's Stories of Men Returning from the Second World War (Hardcover)
This is a very, very good book; allowing the reader to understand much more deeply the traumas that families had trying to reunite after the the biggest war the world has ever known. Especially the chapters dealing with prisoners of war in the Far East are vivid and often heartbreaking. Well worth the read, the book offers much information about the war and much to think about when learning how the soldiers and their families were left to cope with the damage done to their lives with little or no help in many cases.
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5.0 out of 5 stars excellent read., 26 Jun 2013
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I had heard of this book through The Daily Mail book reviews and was really glad I purchased it. I found it informative, poignant, disturbing, sometimes uplifting but most of all I understand a little bit more of what our parents went through to try to keep this country free. We owe them a lot! Thank you.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Outlines a difficult time in many lives, 16 Jan 2013
By 
Thomas W. Keeley (Derby, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Stranger in the House: Women's Stories of Men Returning from the Second World War (Hardcover)
I never thought or understood the stress of a returning soldier on him and his loved ones. Another unseen casualty of war
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Book, 9 Sep 2012
This review is from: Stranger in the House: Women's Stories of Men Returning from the Second World War (Hardcover)
One of the main things that this wonderful book has made clear to me is that what we experience in the past will influence the present and the future. Whether we know it or not, and whether we admit it or not.

The book talks equally about the wartime experience of the men and the women before their separation, and during their separation. Especially where the men were prisoners of war, and often when their wife did not know if they were dead or alive. Then the couples meet again after the war, often like two strangers, who somehow had to live together, and bring up children together. With very little help or guidance.

Julie Summers gives an excellent exposition (including many verbal quotes) about the result of a married couple meeting again and living together after a long separation, which has been full of trauma on one, possibly both, sides. And these experiences are not only shared by husband and wife, but also by the children, even those not born until years after the war ends. And we find that the trauma is passed on from one generation to the next, in one form or another.

There are happy stories here too, but not too many. It is in the telling of what was behind the silence of many of the men who came back, and how the women coped with this, that is the book's main strength. The inspiring stories of the fortitude shown by both men, women, and their children, is what takes us behind the silence, and allows many of us to identify, and cry with them.

This book is not just history - for many it will be therapy.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A well-observed and informative book, 28 May 2011
This review is from: Stranger in the House: Women's Stories of Men Returning from the Second World War (Hardcover)
It is a while ago that I read it, but I recall that this book gives amazing insight into both the practical and emotional difficulties encountered by returnees from these horrendous 3 years.
I have one observation - I fully appreciate Julie's perspective and those of some of the other families, where the returning men were violent. However, the experience of my own father's return from being a FEPOW was the opposite - he absolutely eschewed violence and never raised a hand to my sister and I. Since we were born on the 60s it is possible that both his age and the 20 years that had elapsed in between had mellowed him. The elements I certainly did identify with nonetheless were the emotional distancing and depression.
This made it all the more interesting for me to read as, of course, when Julie's father returned, he had to deal with an entire family immediately after such diabolical experiences. We were perhaps luckier to have been born later on.
Nevertheless, it is an excellently written and observed account.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A moving account of a neglected subject, 5 Dec 2010
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This review is from: Stranger in the House: Women's Stories of Men Returning from the Second World War (Hardcover)
This is a moving book which explores the effect of the menfolk returning at the end of Second World War, not only on their wives and girlfriends but also on their children and, eventually, on their grandchildren.

For the most part Julie Summers allows the participants to tell their own stories. Inevitably the greatest shadow in the book is cast by the terrible suffering of those POWs in the Far East at the hands of the Japanese - the mental and physical effects were felt by the men and their families for years afterwards. Sometimes it is the little details which are the most telling, such as the ex-POW who could not sit down at the table to eat his meals indoors, but who would take his plate into the porch and eat there.

Many of the stories here are simply heartbreaking, with marriages blighted by men who tragically found their experiences burned out their bodies and their emotions. Wives effectively became carers, with little support, and children were left bewildered and starved of affection, or suffered a father's violent rage. One poor woman's husband rejected her love for over fifty years, and he only opened up about the War in the year before he died - and then to a stranger.

Some of the stories told have happier endings, and the book does end on a positive note. As one of the interviewees says, it is important that subsequent generations learn from the experiences of their parents and grandparents, in order to understand them and themselves better: "Without these stories there is no past, no memories, just blank." Ultimately, that is the importance of Julie Summers' book.
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