Since I have decided, after only fifty pages into There's No Home, to look for more of Alexander Baron's books, I thought a teaser or two was called for. I wasn't sure what to expect from this war story set in WWII Sicily, but I have fallen so comfortably into the pages of this book, I find myself wanting to pick it up when I know I should really be doing something else.
I like how it begins. It sets the tone and put me immediately at ease. So often war stories are incredibly anguishing, they can make for hard going. I'm not entirely sure there won't be difficult moments here as well (and I've actually just finished a scene that is quite sad, but somehow didn't feel so heavy that it was off-putting), but he seems to be coming at the story with a very light touch.
"This is not a story of war but of one of those brief interludes in war when the almost-forgotten rhythms of normal living are permitted to emerge again: and when it seeps back into the consciousness of human beings--painfully, sometimes heartbreakingly--that they are, after all, human."
The story is written from varying points of view, soldiers, townspeople, men and women, British and Italians. The British army has taken a town on the Sicilian coast where many of the residents are just now beginning to return after taking to the surrounding hills to stay away from the fighting. They are being temporarily billeted there and begin to intermingle with the residents. The reader gets glimpses into the lives of both sides, of the hardships and hopes, of the difficulties of war. Most of the men of the town are off fighting in Africa, or are dead or POWs. There is a deep sense of sadness, but too of strong women enduring and carrying on.
"[Private Fooks] leaned back against the warm wall, his head lolling on one side, and stared at two women who were talking in a doorway across the road. He looked at them with delight but without hunger. He had always imagained that Italian women were plump and beautiful. Not these, they were lean and strong-looking, in their long, thick dresses and their faces were pale and without expression"
For the British soldiers there is, too, a sense of relief and a chance at some semblance of normalcy. As the town begins to open up again, they are allowed to go about and spend their money and are only too happy to do so.
"The shutters were coming down from shop windows. There were queues in the markets for fish and fruit, and for the first time, exorbitantly-priced supplies of bitter black bread and flyblown meat. Some of the rubble had been cleared from the streets. A corporal had discovered a palatial barber's saloon and had treated himself to a haircut, shave, manicure and shampoo. He spoke of the place as if it were a palace out of the Arabian Nights. One of the medical orderlies described ecstatically an enormous and many-coloured dish of ice cream that he had bought. Others spoke of bars, cafés and pastry-cooks. A few miles away the armies were still engaged, but throughout this sprawling city thousands of people were bustling about, wiping away from their streets, their habitations and their own minds the traces of war as they might clean up the mess after a drunken party."
There's No Home is this month's Literature and War Readalong choice and I think it's going to be a good one. Certainly is will show a different side of war, putting a more human spin on the proceedings, I think. There is still time to read along as discussion begins next Monday.