Books: Paperbacks ; the Vintage Book of War Stories Edited by Sebastian Faulks and Jorg Hensgen Vintage, Pounds 7.99, 396pp

By Emma Hagestadt And Christopher Hirst | The Independent (London, England), September 4, 1999 | Go to article overview
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Books: Paperbacks ; the Vintage Book of War Stories Edited by Sebastian Faulks and Jorg Hensgen Vintage, Pounds 7.99, 396pp


Emma Hagestadt And Christopher Hirst, The Independent (London, England)


JUDGING FROM this extensive anthology of 20th-century wartime literature, a good war story is a love story. And that's not just because the book's editor, Sebastian Faulks, is a much-decorated veteran of battlefield romance.

As the young soldier in Tim O'Brien's Vietnam story remarks: "War is Hell, but that's not the half of it." War is also excitement, longing, despair and pain - the most beautiful and the ugliest moments of a person's life.

Many of the book's extracts are undiluted romance. An extract from Elizabeth Bowen's novel The Heat of the Day, recalls the autumn of 1940 and the capital's first bombing raids - a season of "unmarriedness" when "everybody in London was in love." Laurie Lee's Spanish Civil War memories are back- lit by winter sunsets and populated by girls with "long Spanish-Indian eyes"; and an extract from Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms recalls that classic moment in a young soldier's life - leave-taking in a hotel bedroom.

Alongside writers who were actually there - Siegfried Sassoon, Kay Boyle, Alistair MacLean, Andre Malraux - Faulks and his German co-editor Jorg Hensgen have included contemporary figures like William Boyd, Pat Barker and Sebastien Japrisot, all of whom have re- fashioned war for their own dramatic ends.

Although the two World Wars dominate, stories from the Russian Revolution, Spanish Civil War, Vietnam and Korea, and the Gulf are also included (the conflict in Kosovo is still too young to find a place). While the book is admirably nonpartisan in scope, this reader could have happily substituted some of Faulks and Hensgen's more "international" choices, for extracts from the works of Eric Newby, Brian Moore and Evelyn Waugh... but that would be asking for trouble. EH

Speaking for Themselves

edited by Mary Soames

Black Swan, pounds 15, 702pp

SELECTED BY their daughter from 1,700 letters between Winston and Clemmie, this is a great Churchillian treat. In 1926, she's smitten by "the charming smile and beautiful eyes" of Mussolini.

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