This year (2014) marks the centenary of World War I (The Great War) and many media organizations, including the BBC, are preparing special programmes to remember/commemorate it. Many fictional stories examine the themes of war or anti-war and many more others are touched in some peripheral way (such as classics like Little Women). Whether a story valorizes, interrogates or opposes war, most of us would agree there are important lessons to learn - humankind cannot help falling at times, it seems, into that worst of last resort responses to intra and international problems. The themes raised by war fiction also have relevance to our daily lives as we refine our understanding of and responses to conflict, sacrifice, courage and patriotism. So, to highlight the value that such books offer in understanding and learning from historical, contemporary and science fictional wars, this month we explore and offer jumping off points for war-themed reading.
Oxford graded readers that include war themes can be found here. Set against the backdrop of World War II, one 2010 Language Literature Awards Finalist is Easy Readers' Number the Stars by Lois Lowry and adapted by Edward Broadbridge (A2). The 2005 Language Literature Awards' Adolescent and Adults - Advanced Award prize went to Penguin's L5 Cold Mountain (link goes to .pdf), a story that "vividly conveys its pastoral and anti-war themes, and depiction of humans at their cruelest and most generous". Cambridge offers Freddie's War, Solo Saxophone (L6), Why? (Starter) and Jojo's War (L2) - the latter 2 also LLL Award winners.
For the digital readers check out PandaEbooks non-fiction Snapshots World War II, the sci-fi play script The Cave of Death, the graphic novel Hot Iron: The Adventures of a Civil War Powder Boy and Graphic Library's Florence Nightingale.
Extensive Listening -The Untold History of the United States
Extensive Listening teachers interested in non-fiction may already be aware of Oliver Stone's 2012 ten part documentary series and companion book, which explores neglected parts of US history from the first world war until the war on terror and the Obama Administration. Listen to a radio interview with Stone and collaborator historian Professor Peter Kuznick here.
Edinburgh ~ 1st City of Literature
In our tour of UNESCO Cities of Literature we started at Krakow (7th) and now come to our last and first, Edinburgh. In October 2004, Edinburgh became the first UNESCO City of Literature. Not only is the Scottish city the home of many world-famous contemporary authors, but it also boasts many historic literary legends such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Walter Scott, the author of Ivanhoe and Rob Roy and Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote Jekyll and Hyde and Treasure Island.
Edinburgh has adopted its own version of the Poet Laureate: the Edinburgh Makar. The Scots word stresses the role of the poet or author as a skilled and versatile worker in the craft of writing. Read Stewart Conn's (appointed The First Makar) poem "Emissaries", which rather serendipitously employs defender and peace-like metaphors in celebrating the occasion of Edinburgh receiving the UNESCO title. Edinburgh's role in the Great War is documented here.
On War themes in fiction - articles
Feel like some erudite reading on war themes in fiction? Check out these articles.
Arifa Akbar: The most memorable history lesson on war is in fiction
TheActivistWriter: Where are today's anti-war novels?
BBC: How children's war fiction has changed
For those too young to remember the Cold War...
Emerging wave of Iraq fiction examines America's role in "bullshit war"
Adam Roberts: War of the Worlds: Who owns the political soul of science fiction?
Chimamandra Ngozi Adichie: Truth and Lies
Phil Klay: After War: A Failure of the Imagination
A list of "war in fiction" search articles from the Paris Review