Non-Fiction November: perfect couples
For Nonfiction November this week we’re looking at pairing up a work of fiction with a work of non fiction.
I’m feeling generous this week (it’s probably all those endorphins floating around after my session in the gym this morning) so am going to offer you not one, but two pairings. In a week that we will mark the end of one of the worst conflicts in history, I thought it was fitting that both are on the theme of war.
Couple #1: World War 1
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks follows two characters who live at different times. One is Stephen Wraysford, a British soldier on the front line in Amiens during the First World War. The other is his granddaughter, Elizabeth Benson, who more than fifty years later discovers his journals from World War I and seeks to learns about his experiences at Marne, Verdun and the Somme.
Faulks said that he wrote the novel partly because he felt that the First World War had not been discussed enough in both literary and historical contexts.
I’m not sure whether he thinks that has now changed. We’ve certainly seen “The Great War” feature more prominently in the UK school curriculum in the last few years and the 100th anniversary of the Armistice this weekend is appropriately being marked around the country.
Unfortunately so many of the people who returned from that conflict are no longer with us to share their memories and experiences. We do however have the archives of the Imperial War Museum who recorded thousands of soldiers, the families they left behind and people who survived the war. The results are available in The Forgotten Voices series of books. The one I read, the Forgotten Voices of the Great War contained some tremendously moving testimonies that helped me appreciate what my great grandfather experienced ( he was one of the lucky ones who returned home to his family). Highly recommended reading if you have anyone in your family who served in the war or even if you didn’t but want to understand more about the war that was meant to end all wars.
Couple #2: World War 2
Oskar Schindler saved the lives of more than 1,000 Jewish people during World War 2. His actions were brought to public attention through the book Schindler’s List (sold as Schindler’s Ark outside the United States) by Keneally. The book, which Keneally labelled a novel, won him the Booker Prize in 1982. The film version directed by Steven Spielberg, won seven Academy Awards.
But none of this would have happened it it had not been for chance encounter in Beverley Hills, Los Angeles between Keneally and Poldek Pfefferberg, a Holocaust survivor. Pfefferberg had tried for years to interest writers and film makers about the story of Schindler but it was only when Thomas Keneally walked into his shop that he got the response he wanted.
The story of that meeting and the visits the two men made to Poland, to talk to people whose lives Schindler saved, are recorded in Searching for Schindler. It’s worth reading this to understand some of the challenges Keneally encountered when he came to write his novel and the even bigger challenge of creating the film script. Here’s my review.
24 thoughts on “Non-Fiction November: perfect couples”
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Wonderful post. I read both Birdsong and Schindler’s List years ago, but those non fiction books are new to me. I really don’t read that much non fiction, searching for Schindler does sound particularly fascinating.
Great choices, Karen. I read Vera Brittain’s ‘A Testament of Youth’ earlier in the year and it affected me so deeply I’ll never view WW1 in the same way again. If you haven’t read it already I’d highly recommend it.
It’s a very long time since i read it but yes it made a deep impression on me too. Did you see the film version? It was good in parts but of course couldn’t convey the horror to the same extent
The WWII pairing is really fascinating!
Thanks Angela. I’ve been trying to think of other WW2 books but everything I come up with so far is fiction
nice pairings, tough topics. My pairings are here: https://wordsandpeace.com/2018/11/07/nonfiction-november-2018-book-pairings/
Such fitting and thoughtful pairings you have shared.
The story behind how a book came to be is often nearly as fascinating as the book itself. And there are so many “forgotten voices” waiting for us to recover them. Great picks on these ever-intriguing topics.
I do like the interviews in magazines which go behind the scenes and tell us about the inspiration for the book as well as the research process…
Although I have read a lot about the Holocaust, I haven’t read much about WWII from different perspectives (although recall enjoying All The Light We Cannot See for the perspectives from soldiers from both sides of the line). I recently finished Life After Life which I loved, partly for the amazing scenes in the London during the Blitz.
I think I’ve read more WW1 related books from different angles than WW2.
I think Birdsong is my favorite WWI novel.
It is indeed a fabulous book. Apparently it was very effective as a stage version too
Well done, I’m still trying to think of mine but I am a complete dud at pairings!
And they fit perfectly together as well: nicely done!
Great timely choices Karen.
Interesting pairings! I’ve only seen the film of Schindler’s List, and read parts of the book for an undergrad class, but I’ll have to check out the memoir sometime. We touched upon the difficulties of the film’s production in the class I took, and it’d be nice to learn more about it.
I hadn’t realised how many years went by between the time when Speilberg said he was interested and when he actually went ahead with the project.
What excellent picks! Forgotten Voices sounds remarkable. World War I isn’t my strongest area of history reading so I’d love to know more about it and that sounds like a good one with a personal aspect.
I didn’t even know that a memoir about what’s behind the Schindler’s List story existed! I loved that book and will have to read the memoir. Excited to have that one to look forward to, thanks for sharing it!
Here’s the review I wrote a few months ago. https://bookertalk.com/2018/05/27/searching-for-schindler/
When I was a kid, it was the WWI vets who marched in the Remembrance Day parades. I have often lamented that their stories have been lost – that was one of the reasons I so enjoyed Timothy Findlay’s The Wars – because the ‘current’ timeline was set in the 1970s when a person could still interview a WWI soldier.
I must look into Forgotten Voices of the Great War. I was unaware of this series.
Hi Debbie, I hadn’t heard of The Wars but it does sound interesting. You’re right – i can remember watching the parades and feeling sorry for all those elderly men who were standing in the cold and rain but they didn’t see it as an imposition. For them it was really an honour.
I have similar childhood memories Debbie and Karen, but in Australia I felt sorry for those frail old men for sweltering in their uniforms at the beginning of our long-hot summers. But of course, they considered it an honour to be there to remember their mates and to hope that their grandchildren never had to go through what they did.