Sunday, March 6, 2011
Book talk: World War I marked the beginning of modern warfare, but its commanders still used the old war tactics. The results were disastrous. Soldiers were stuck in mud-filled trenches full of disease, afraid to lift their head above the edge for even a second for fear of being struck down by a sharpshooter. The two sides, led to war under false pretenses, would exchange grenades and fire and occasionally be ordered out on doomed charges toward the other side that only resulted in casualties littering the ground between the trenches. Yet, in this bleak atmosphere and surrounded by death and violence, peace triumphed for a brief period. On Christmas Day 1914, hundreds of thousands of soldiers defied orders and laid down their arms to meet their enemies in the no-man's land between the trenches and celebrate together.
Rocks my socks: I can't even remember studying World War I in school. I'm sure it was mentioned briefly at one point, but most of my teachers focused more on World War II and wars in general have always been the least likely parts of history to hold my attention, so my background knowledge going into this book was pretty scant. Luckily, before describing the Christmas Truce, Murphy details the events leading up to it in a very clear way so that I now have a far better understanding of World War I than I did going into the book. For someone who is admittedly not a war history fan I actually found Murphy's descriptions pretty compelling as well. It was an excellent read all around, and the ample excerpts of letters from that time and photographs from the time help to give an authentic sense of the events.
Rocks in my socks: As I said, war history has never piqued my interest much so my details on the period are pretty sketchy, but I did get the feeling that the story was a bit sanitized. I got the feeling from the book that the conditions were uncomfortable, but I don't think the book gave an impression of it being anywhere near as awful as it really was in those trenches. I think kids can handle a lot more than we give them credit for, and as I see kids eagerly checking out books on war and glorifying it I think a bit of a reminder of the horrors of war might be a good thing. The casualty numbers are mentioned, but that's too easy to dismiss as a statistic. I think something more was needed.
Every book its reader: I'd give this to kids with an interest in war history, 4th grade and up.
Truce by Jim Murphy
Buy it at your local independent book store or check it out from your local library