Top positive review
15 people found this helpful
Gripping and poignant - a woman's experience of World War I.
on 13 March 2002
This book takes us through the first world war from a woman's viewpoint, but I feel a man could find it relevant and absorbing too. When I first read it I had never heard of Vera Brittain and did'nt even know that she was the mother of the politician, Shirley Williams.
The diary begins in 1913 when Vera is 19 and enjoying a comfortable and protected lifestyle in Buxton, Derbyshire. Highly intelligent and an emerging feminist, she works hard to win a place at Oxford. The war intrudes abruptly two months before she is due to go up to university.
Over the next three years we follow her compelling story of romance, friendships, being an undergraduate and then nursing the wounded in England and Malta. The romance between Vera and Roland is poignant and moving and one which will not be forgotten easily.
Because it is written in diary form the writer is able to be frank and honest. The daily events come across vivid and alive as they happen. In short you feel as if you are experiencing the events with her more than you would in a conventional autobigraphy.
Although Vera Brittain was from an upper-middle-class background and not representative of the vast majority of women then, nevertheless we can still identify with her joys and sorrows as she emerges into the adult world. Nothing is spared: the horror of life in the trenches told through Roland's letters, the drudgery and unpleasant facts of nursing, while through all this Vera struggles to believe in a life hereafter. But the book is not all doom and gloom and the many varying characters we meet lend it colour and light relief.
Vera is forthright and headstrong but loyal, hardworking and capable of loving deeply.
I would recommend reading "Chronicle of Youth" first before going on to read "Testament of Youth" which covers the years 1900 to 1925. That way the reader can identify with the author and have more empathy towards her. Finally I would recommend "Vera Brittain: a Life" by Paul Berry and Mark Bostridge (1995), an excellent book which gives an unbiased comprehensive account of Vera's life.
It may sound like a cliche now to speak of "the lost generation" but this book really does help bring them to life and show us what they endured. I am not a pacifist but after reading "Chronicle of Youth" I can fully understand why Vera Brittain devoted much of the rest of her life to its cause.