“There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”
― Howard Zinn
The recent international events are petrifying as well as thought-provoking.
The attacks in Paris and the counter-strike of Russia and France on the Islamic State targets in Syria compel us to ask ourselves- Is history about to repeat itself? Will 2015 prove to be another 1935?
Terror has haunted the horrendous pages of history since time immemorial and has frequented the vast pool of literature.
The world has been confused whether to boast of these brilliant masterpieces or merely cringe at the horrors they nimbly recall.
Words like terror, blood, explosion, and genocides never fail to evoke the images of the atrocious era of the Second World War.
Here are ten brilliantly ingenious novels that recall the abysmally painful era which the world wants to forget but never can!
1. CHRIST STOPPED AT EBOLI
“The greatest travelers have not gone beyond the limits of their own world; they have trodden the paths of their own souls, of good and evil, of morality and redemption.”
― Carlo Levi,
The doctor turned writer Carlo Levi’s sensational account of his exile in Gagliano, a reward for opposition to Mussolini’s Fascist command during the Abyssinian war, is an outstanding advancement towards social realism in Post-war Italian literature.
‘Christ Stopped at Eboli,’ published in 1945, is a documentary novel and a sociological treatise whose very title symbolizes the desolation, deprivation, and degradation of a malaria-ridden, deserted little town of Eboli and its inhabitants.
2. ASHES AND DIAMONDS
“They want Communism, and we do not. They want to destroy us, and we must destroy them. A battle is going on between us, a battle that has only just started.”
― Jerzy Andrzejewski,
This novel, published in 1948 Warsaw, begins on the last day of the Second World War in Europe and chronicles the life of three men- a communist secretary, a Nazi collaborator, and a disinclined Resistance hitman.
Somewhere amidst attempting desperately to forget their concentration camp past and fighting for justice and self-respect, the characters entrap you in a cinematic exposition of Poland and its remnants after liberation.
Jerzy Andrzejewski gives you a world based on brutal history, where all and sundry are compromised.
“By the rules of fiction, with which life to be credible must comply, he was as a character “impossible” – each time they met, for instance, he showed no shred or trace of having been continuous since they last met.”
― Elizabeth Bowen
Romance lovers, beware!
Elizabeth Bowen weaves a tale of forbidden love between Stella and an alleged Nazi Spy who empathizes with the German vision, Robert, under the outlandish shades of a wartime London.
Although many might not be moved by the melancholy that it generates for the disintegration of the social and cultural supremacy of the English property-owning class, it’s bound to immerse you in a passion that refuses to let you go till you turn the last page over.
“We’re peasants: we nip the buds early.”
Kenzaburo Oe became a Nobel Laureate in 1994, and when you read this book, you wouldn’t wonder why.
This was literally a vicarious flight of terror to read. When a group of boys is abandoned by their parents, in a WW2 Japan scenario where bombs rain down every day, unity is the only path of their survival, they gain transitory freedom in the retreat of a country village and create their own ephemeral paradise even against the heartless conduct of the villagers.
However, with the looming fear of the plague and the discord it brings forth, their paradise is about to be lost.
5. BILLIARDS AT HALF PAST NINE
“Feelings can kill such good hard things as love and hate.”
― Heinrich Böll,
Heinrich Boll’s writing is dominated by an evaluation of the ethical vacuity of post-war Germany, and plenty of scope presents itself for sharing such moral contradictions in this family drama comprising three generations of architects in a West Germany Catholic Town.
Over six decades of German history-from the Kaiser Era to the West German fiscal miracle of the 1950s- are exposed through discussions and monologue during one day- September 6, 1958. This one is all about refuting to forget and forgive the crash of civilization and faith.
6. THE KINDLY ONES
“So what’s the most atrocious thing you’ve seen?” He waved his hand: “Man, of course!”
― Jonathan Littell,
When I saw the author, Jonathan Littell, the first thought that popped up in my head was- this one looks nasty. Trust me, readers, this book is nastier than Michel Tournier’s Le Roi des Aulnes.
This novel is a memoir of an SS officer, Maximilien Aue, recounted from the obvious serenity and assumed receptivity of old age but do not be mistaken- even then, he says, ‘I regret nothing.’
Aue is a homosexual, sexually obsessed with his twin sister; a matricide- unrepentant of his involvement in numerous notorious events, including the Einsatzgruppen massacres of the Jews in Ukraine.
“No one can explain exactly what happens within us when the doors behind which our childhood terrors lurk are flung open.”
― W.G. Sebald,
Jacques Austerlitz, the protagonist, who has set out to unearth his roots in Europe after discovering that he is a Jewish offspring from Prague, meets the unnamed narrator in Antwerp station.
Austerlitz, who has grown up as Daffyd Elias, had been evacuated to Wales before the Second World War, and the novel tries to dig up a time, a horrific phase, that the Nazis perpetrated.
W.G.Sebald has woven fiction with great legitimacy of emotion. You could feel for the protagonist and the million others whom he represents, whose lives are cursed with a kind of desolation that you feel when you have been uprooted from your origins-, the despair that stems from having an incomplete identity.
8. SCHINDLER’S ARK
“Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.”
― Thomas Keneally,
Released as Schindler’s List in America, this epic novel by Thomas Keneally celebrates the heroic deed of a Nazi party member, Oskar Schindler, Who saves 1200 Jews from concentration camps of Poland and Germany.
The film adaptation by Steven Speilberg of this novel on the Schindlerjuden (Schindler Jews) received seven academy awards out of twelve nominations.
Keneally brings to the readers a world of Jews damned by the Nazis as a variety of “life unworthy of life.”
9. CAPTAIN CORELLI’S MANDOLIN
“Love is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake and then subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is.”
This book cannot be taken as a textbook of world events: it’s much more than mere historical fiction.
Louis de Bernieres, who writes in the tradition Marquez, traces the love of Pelagia and the melodically talented Captain Corelli in the Greek island of Cephallonia.
The appeal of this book lies in the gradual build-up of emotions and strife against the milieu of the Italian and German occupation of the island during the Second World War, with a pool of fascinating characters and seventy-three sections of narrations from numerous perspectives.
10. THE ARTIST OF THE FLOATING WORLD
“We’re the only ones who care now. The likes of you and me, Ono, when we look back over our lives and see they were flawed, we’re the only ones who care now.”
― Kazuo Ishiguro,
In this second book by Kazuo Ishiguro, we live the struggle of a defeated man- Masaji Ono, a propagandist for Japan Imperialism during World War II, an artist who loses his family.
He vividly evokes post-war Japan in the classic, rigid Japanese literature form.
We confront the befuddled expressions of a man who is forced to resent his stand, scrutinize his own function in a movement that led to the slaughter of so many lives and judge his pre-war ideals in terms of contemporary, dubious principles.
Margaret Atwood says, “War is what happens when language fails.”
Has really the power of language failed the human race? Are the dark clouds of another World War closing in?
Let’s read till we find our silver lining.