Aranzazu Usandizaga and Andrew Monnickendam, Eds. 2007: Back to Peace. Reconciliation and Retribution in the Postwar Period

By Perez Rodriguez, Eva M. | Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos, December 2008 | Go to article overview

Aranzazu Usandizaga and Andrew Monnickendam, Eds. 2007: Back to Peace. Reconciliation and Retribution in the Postwar Period


Perez Rodriguez, Eva M., Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos


Aranzazu Usandizaga and Andrew Monnickendam, eds. 2007: Back to Peace. Reconciliation and Retribution in the Postwar Period. Notre Dame, Indiana: U of Notre Dame P. i-viii+ 312 pp. ISBN 978-0-268-04452-7.

The interest in English speaking countries, in particular Great Britain and the United States, in issues related to the two world wars is made manifest in the profusion of novels, as well as historical and cultural studies, that are published week after week and granted the best-selling aisles in bookshops across both countries. Not only is the post-WW2 period taken as a watershed supposed to open a new historical and literary era, but also the two World Wars are being studied increasingly as the thematic source for fiction inspired on them. Novels based on the 1914-1945 period that have met with both critical and public accolades in the last couple of decades include Martin Amis's Time's Arrow (1991), Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy (1991-1995), Robert Harris's Enigma (1995), Anthony Beevor's Stalingrad (1998), Sebastian Faulks's Birdsong (1994) and Charlotte Gray (2000), Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day (1989) and When We Were Orphans (2000), Ian McEwan's Atonement (2001), or William Boyd's Restless (2006). The selection, while obviously limited, does indicate the varied literary techniques, genres and themes that authors explore, from magical realism to historicism, spy-novel to biography. For the literary researcher, however, it is the different narrative techniques that attract the highest interest, since we encounter violent disruptions not only of characterisation and time-line but also of the narrative voice and even the very frame that separates fiction from reality.

Such narrative innovations and the sheer proliferation of novels whose background is mainly WW2 has led, in turn, to a profusion of literary studies specialising in the topic. To name but a few, DeCoste studies the "literary response" (2005: 3) to WW2 in the period between the closure of the conflict and the turn of the century, as do Taylor (1993), whose analysis is literary and social, and Salwak, who focuses on "the angry decade" (2005: 21) and after; and Munton (1989) concentrates on fiction produced in the direct aftermath of the conflict, in which the main focus of interest are stories by and about combatants or other direct participants (nurses, civil servants, etc.), an approach consonant with its earlier date of publication. To mention a few titles whose scope is closer to that of Back to Peace, Norris (2000) presents an overview of 20th century wars in literature that covers British and American authors of mainly novels, but also covering films and press censorship in the last decade. Acton (2007) has compared the private expressions of grief during war in letters, diaries and poetry among others, with the public discourse of armed conflict. Recently, White (2008) has studied pacifism in literature, mainly poetry, from the fourteenth century onwards. These three latter volumes insist that the concept of war is in need of revision, and that art must find an alternative to the legitimised discourse of warfare.

The object of this review, Aranzazu Usandizaga's and Andrew Monnickendam's Back to Peace. Reconciliation and Retribution in the Postwar Period, inscribes itself in this current trend. It attempts an "understanding of war" (3) not as an absolute, but as the manifestation of contradictory human tendencies: to self-destruction and philanthropy; and it analyses the various literary responses to the processes that individuals, communities and nations undertake in order to return to the 'prelapsarian' status quo, if indeed such a shift may be accomplished. The result of that analysis is given in three Parts, Return of the Combatant, Reconciliation, and Wars within Peace, in which the different contributors offer an overview of the literary approaches that authors--geographically, temporally and aesthetically divergent--have adopted in their traumatic rendition of peace after war. …

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