Wednesday, April 25, 2012

John Steinbeck's Once There Was A War

By Richard K. Barry

For some reason I got heavily into reading books about war over the winter. I'm generally not a great fan of war, all that death and destruction. Still, as a concept it has played a fairly significant role in the shape of the world we know, as unfortunate as that is.

I'm reasonably certain that trying to understand war, the experiences of people caught up in it, and the geopolitical consequences of it, doesn't make me a hawk. I'm grateful that I have never had to be anywhere near it, but I am fascinated by it.

Anyway, enough explaining, apologizing, whatever.

In the middle of looking for things on the subject to read, I walked over to one of my bookcases and pulled down John Steinbeck's Once There Was A War. The book was published in 1958. It is a collection of articles written by Steinbeck while he was a war correspondent in Europe for the New York Herald Tribune from June to December 1943. The book seems to be categorized as a non-fiction novel.

Here's a very useful entry from the Wiki on the book:

Steinbeck did not report 'straight news', as he put it: he did not cover battles, or interview national or military leaders. As befitted the author of The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck wrote about the experiences of the ordinary people, those who were doing the actual fighting, and those who did the vast number of unglamorous but vital support jobs which kept the armed forces operating.

Obviously, as these were newspaper dispatches, each story is quite brief. The entire book isn't 200 pages. As the entry also indicates:
Steinbeck's articles include descriptions of life on a troop transporter, an account of the liberation of a small Sicilian town, a description of how homesick US soldiers tried to grow their native vegetables in the English garden where they billeted, and an account of how a detachment of US paratroopers tricked the German garrison at Ventotene into surrendering.

I've read my share of Steinbeck, the ones that most people know. I hadn't come across this one, though it was on my shelf, not that it's unusual that I would be unaware of a book on my own shelf.

It's a great little read by one of the best writers of the 20th century.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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