Top positive review
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A study of warmth and humanity
on 26 September 2008
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.