Top positive review
71 people found this helpful
on 27 August 2006
This really is one of the best accounts of the Great War that I've read. Given all that I've heard about this book, that wasn't so much of a surprise - as someone with a great interest in the First World War it was why I bought the book, after all. What was a surprise, however, was that well before Graves joined the army about mid-way through his autobiography I was already solidly engrossed.
Robert Graves writes with a real charm and gentle humour, belying an often quite scathing satirical leaning, and his account of his early home life and upbringing is beautiful, a real evocation of a time now lost forever. The fact that he's half-German heartbreakingly foreshadows later events, as he spends childhood holidays playing in teutonic fairytale castles with German uncles and nephews, men he is destined one day to try to kill on the battlefields of France. It's a pertinent reminder of how close Britain and Germany were in the late 1800's, a fact which made the later War all the more tragic.
The account of his time in France during the conflict, the greater part of the book, is simply brilliant - and considering what he goes through, it's hard to keep in mind that he was only in his early twenties, as I suppose so many of the soldiers were. The other reviews have covered these 'war years' in more detail and it's admittedly hard to find something new to say on a war memoir that's been reviewed and analyzed so often since it was first published, so I'll skip on to the less-discussed later chapters - suffice to say it's hard to find a better account of the life of a young officer on the Western Front.
Once the war ends the book does arguably lose drive and focus, but I get a sense that by this point Graves was simply weary of England and life in general - it must have been hard to find much that matched the passion and drama of the battlefield, where a generation faced things we can hardly imagine today. It does all evoke an interesting picture of how a country tries to adjust to life after such a war, however, before it starts becoming simply a list of which famous writers Graves met.
All in all, this is probably one of the best first-hand accounts of World War One that we're lucky enough to have - and if you have any interest at all in the subject, you simply owe it to yourself to read it at least once.
One final thought - I strongly recommend reading this in conjunction with Seigfreid Sassoon's 'Memoirs of an Infantry Officer'. Each book gives a whole new spin on the other. Close friends and fellow author/poets, Graves and Sassoon's stories overlap and parallel each other several times, and it's fascinating to read differing accounts of the same crucial events in the lives of these two men.