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Alamein to Zem Zem Paperback – 10 May 2011

4.6 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber; Reprint edition (10 May 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571241948
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571241941
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.1 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 363,669 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Book Description

Alamein to Zem Zem by Keith Douglas is a remarkable, first-hand account of the Second World War in North Africa: 'Everything, from flowers carpeting the desert in winter to vanquished enemies, is seen with a poet's eye and the generosity of young.' (John Carey, the Guardian) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Keith Douglas was born in 1920. At school and at Oxford he was both a prolific poet and a committed member of the Officers Training Corps. When the Second World War broke out, he enlisted immediately, and was posted to Palestine in 1941. When his tank regiment began fighting in El Alamein in 1942, Douglas was instructed to stay behind as a staff officer. But he made his own way to the battlefield, an experience which he recounted in his prose memoir Alamein to Zem Zem (first published in 1946). He later took part in the Normandy invasion on 6 June 1944, and was killed three days later. His Collected Poems came out in 1951.


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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This first-hand account of the battle of El Alamein by a tank commander who was also a well-regarded poet is well worth reading. While it is rather more gung-ho, the closest parallel I can think of is some of Wilfred Owen's poetry from the Western Front of the previous round of Unpleasantness. I was particularly struck by something that is very common in real military memoirs but almost entirely absent from fictional ones: that soldiers - even officers - rarely know what's going on, are frequently confused, spend far more time waiting around than they do fighting, and that their biggest enemy is often the environment as opposed to the other side's soldiers. Some of the confusion seeps through to the pages. In a very short book, it is sometimes hard to keep track of who is who in Douglas's squadron, but whereas in a work of fiction that would be terribly important, in this true account it really doesn't matter - the overall impression is what counts. In short, this is one of the few books that I can whole-heartedly recommend to absolutely everyone, no matter whether your normal diet is great literature or formulaic pot-boiler thrillers. Buy it. Now.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I first read about Keith Douglas in The 20th Century in Poetry - also available from Amazon - an excellent anthology edited by Michael Hulse and Simon Rae:

Page 271 : ‘A young tank officer, Keith Douglas, served in the North Africa campaign, and wrote an excellent memoir about his experiences, Alamein to Zem Zem. ‘In tank warfare you only saw your enemy when he surrendered or when as in Vergissmeinnicht, you came upon his rotting corpse.’ Douglas was killed himself in Normandy a year later, leaving arguably the best war poems of any Englishman in the conflict.’

I’ve grown to be wary of such accolades – especially the ‘arguably’ – which often seems to be used as an rear-guarding caveat, for just about anything can be so described – but my interest in the literature of war; the even tenor of the introductions to the various sections of the anthology and the selection of poems were good enough for me to order Keith Douglas’s book from Amazon.

I found that reading material by a person whom you know was killed a short time later (Alamein took place in November 1942 and the author was killed in July 1944) was quite special but in a way I find difficult to define. I can however say that it’s very different from reading the memoirs of someone you know didn’t die until some considerable period of time after they had written a book e.g. Eisenhower’s Crusade in Europe.

I wonder what the mechanics of setting down Alamein to Zem Zem were? At the very least he must have scribbled in down in a jotter and then passed it on to get written-up. Also, how did he manage to find time to write? There seems something of Isaac Rosenberg in his hurried scribblings, something quite noble.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
This book is really good. It has great descriptions of the North African battle environment, and it does a great job in describing the life of an infantry soldier in battle. Other than just the informative descriptions, that make a great book on their own, the author's thoughts and impressions of the battle routine, other soldiers, commanders and the war mentality in general reflects well in the book. The book has it's own unique sort of philosophy on the war, and the author did a great job in putting it into words. The fact that the book was written by an English infantry soldier while he fought in the battle of El-Alamein in WWII, and later died in Normandy, makes the words stand out even more. I enjoyed the book very much.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
One thye really great literary accounts which emerged from World War II. There is no better account of the war in the weestern desert. It's beautifu;l;ly written, very honest and often very funny.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Riveting evocation of day to day existence in a tank unit fighting across N Africa. Stretches of boredom (fascinatingly described!) punctuated by explosive chaos and terror. Beautifully judged sketches of regimental characters, many of whom we get to know just in time to lose them tragically in action. Virtuosic writing from this impossibly young writer, battle-wise and tough as iron at 22.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An outstanding and very personal exposition of life in a tank in combat in North Africa by an equally outstanding war poet...
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