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Dead Souls Brought to Life,
This review is from: Goodbye to All That (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
"Goodbye to all that" is simply one of the finest memoirs of the Great War. Odd that my other great favourite is "Memoirs of a Foxhunting Man" written by Graves great friend Siegfried Sassoon. We follow Graves through school at Charterhouse, which he hated, to him becoming an Officer in the war. His descriptions of the battlefield are some of the most vivid recollections of that conflict. His descriptions of the dead leave no doubt that he must have suffered many sleepless nights. He recalled seeing a dead infantrymen from the South Wales Borderers impaled simultaneously with bayonets to a fellow infantryman from the German Lehr Regiment. Both locked in a ghastly last embrace. He was also wounded so badly that he was put in a corner to die. Thankfully fate saw to it that he lived to provide a canon of outstanding literature including this wonderful book. Later in the memoir Graves talks candidly about his marriage break up which was quite groundbreaking for the period.
Like most autobiographical works the truth sometimes becomes misted over a little, and is only as good as the memory of the writer. Sometimes accurracy can be sacrificed for the flow of the narrative. Sassoon himself was very dismayed with some of the comments made about himself, and there were other grumbles. But overall this is an honest and frank work. Sometimes the name dropping can be a little irksome. He mentions speaking with luminaries of the time like TE Lawrence and Thomas Hardy. I am reminded of the way in which the travel writer Paul Theroux name drops. But these are minor blemishes to what is a priceless piece of war literature.
Once you have read this book particular scenes will always stay with you. It is that kind of book. It possesses immense power. It is the work of a talented poet and raconteur. It is the work of a disillusioned soldier who had stared into the abyss. It is a book of humanity and it is a book written by one of those Band of Brothers who fought in the war to end all wars. The dead souls move across the pages to remind us of the horror that we have been spared. It is a fitting tribute to those men. Essential reading.