Children’s book review tour! Line of Fire: Diary of an Unknown Soldier – Barroux

“In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, he plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.”  ― Wilfred Owen

Line of Fire: Diary of an Unknown Soldier – Barroux

51QTsd1WFBL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_There was never any question of including this book on my tour list. Before I had even received the book I knew that I loved it. Line of Fire: Diary of an Unknown Soldier is exactly what the title implies; the diary of an unknown soldier.

One winter’s morning, Barroux was walking down the streets of Paris when he passed a house which was being emptied of rubbish; piles of old belongings, wrappers and refuse had been placed in the street. ‘We are emptying the basement. Help yourself if you like’ he was told by one of the people ferrying rubbish onto the street. It was at this point that Barroux picked up an ageing yellow diary from amongst the rubbish. A diary which belonged to an unknown soldier serving during world war one. Barroux took the diary and from it created Line of Fire, a graphic novel depicting the words written by an unknown French soldier…may his words never be forgotten.

This book was such a find! I’m over the moon to have discovered it, read it, and to have a copy of my own.

The illustration style fits so perfectly with the subject; you can almost imagine the soldier himself drawing them. They are simple, almost childish, yet graphic, as though they have been scratched with a piece of charcoal salvaged from the embers of long extinguished fire. They remind me, in some ways, of images I have seen drawn by soldiers on the front line. Although the sketches undoubtedly carry Barroux’s distinctive style, there is much in the way of reality present in the scenes. I am reminded of the images in A Soldiers Sketches Under Fire by Harold Harvey – real images sketched by a soldier on the front line.

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It feels strange to review the words of a man when I know nothing about him. Although Barroux is listed as the author of the book, the words belong to the Unknown Soldier. They are exactly as they were found, although in the case of my copy they have been translated into English from their native French. They are powerful words, and although it does not take long to read the book, the effect of the story is far reaching and potent.

The Unknown Soldier speaks of the things which are sure to have plagued any man on the front line of WWI. His fatigue, it is crippling, and he feels dead on his feet – ‘My feet are bleeding, My legs can no longer hold me up. This isn’t a man who’s walking but a sheep following the flock.’ He is never able to rest for more than a few hours before being aroused, often in the dead of night, to move on to the next place. He takes to sleeping on piles of straw, where they are available, next to his companion Fernand, sleeping close together for warmth, and, I expect, comfort.

Our Soldier worries about those he has left behind. He is so worried, plagued by worry each time he receives no word from home. It is moving to see the worry from the other side. It is well known that those that are left behind will worry about their father, brother, son, or husband who has gone away to fight, but the soldiers words show that the worry tortures him equally. ‘The women weep. It’s up to us to show that we’re stronger than they are and convince them that we will return.’ When he does hear news his release is evident, as though he has let out a deep breath of relief; ‘at last I receive some postcards from my dear wife’.

The horror of war is also painted on the pages of the diary, not so much in Barroux’s drawings, but in the soldier’s words. The words are not complicated or flowing, but to the point, and powerful – you can smell the gunpowder, hear the crackle of artillery fire, and see the horrors that the Unknown Soldier scrawls within the pages of his diary. ‘This is where a powerful shell landed on a platoon of the 6th company, which was partially destroyed’ he writes, having seen the remains of a soldiers leg hanging from a tree branch.

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The Unknown Soldier seems to have made a narrow escape from the horrors of war, although no one knows now anything about the man who kept this diary.  He writes of being injured while forced to advance under the eruption of overhead shrapnel, and of the bravery of a fellow soldier, without whom he may not have survived. ‘While he’s bandaging my arm, the shells continue to rain down on us. I shall never forget the devotion of this soldier who didn’t think twice about risking his life, staying close in order to tend to me.’

Once out of the line of fire, he is faced with a lengthy journey to a hospital, all the while in indescribable pain, and with a raging fever which forbids him rest and sustenance. It is once he arrives at hospital, and his fever begins to subside that he is faced with another, unimagined issue – boredom. For a week we hear nothing of the Unknown Soldier, and then, he writes of his boredom, the slowness of the days, his heavy heart, and his feeling that life is carrying on all the same outside of the hospital walls.

‘Sometimes I’m sorry I didn’t stay in the line of fire’ – and with these words the Unknown Soldier’s story ends.

Line of Fire has left me feeling such a strange mix of emotions, with so many questions running through my mind. The power of the Unknown Soldier’s last words are incredible, and only made more so by the fact that he, undoubtedly, never expected anyone to read his diary. Who was this man? And why did he stop writing? Questions I will find myself often asking, and will never know the answer to.

I would recommend this book to almost anyone. Even if you don’t feel drawn to Barroux’s illustrations the power of the Unknown Soldier’s words will not fail to captivate. History students, WWI fanatics, children and adults alike, this is a lesson in history, and an important one at that. Read it and pass on the recommendation.

‘The provisional government is an egg’ – Ross Sutherland

I know I’ve been a little quiet of late but I’m trying to get back on track. Had a very busy July, with work, and a social life which seemed to spring from nowhere, and now I’m planning for an exciting couple of weeks InterRailling in Europe. But I will get a few posts done before hand. This one included.

So here it is, my next stop on the obscure poetry train, translation poetry!

I got the idea from a poetry evening I went to attended by Ross Sutherland. If you’re not familiar with Sutherland, you must check out some of his work, he’s brilliant, and absolutely hilarious.

The idea is to take a poem, and feed it through a piece of translation software until the original meaning is lost in translation errors. His manuscript National Language can be found here.

252294_458007547543644_1272932445_nI had a play around with Bing translator and one of my favourite poems – Rudyard Kipling’s The Way through the Woods . I didn’t run it through hundreds of times like Sutherland did, nor did I take words out in between translations and manipulate it in that way. I ran it through about 10 times, and then tidied the text up. If I have more time I might try following Sutherland’s process a little more carefully, but I’m still quite happy with the result I got from this one.

This is the original:

They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.
Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few.)
You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods.
But there is no road through the woods.

And here is my mistranslated version:

They are out of the way, Les.
More than 70 years ago.
Gone back to the weather and the rain.
You would never know now
That once a forest was in the way.
Trees were planted
Based on the Bush administration;
And the heath’s pale sea anemones.
Only a custodian can see the Paluomakefu school.
The badgers do not.
At the end of the summer night,
A trout pond loops in the air conditioning.
And the Colleague Otter?
Well, he does not like the woods.
Therefore, some are searching.
Listen to your horse,
Dress pink,
Ride.
Solitodis Dim.
They know.
Take the old forest road.
There is no forest.

As always I had great fun playing around with this, although it did take me a little while to find some software which was unsophisticated enough to sufficiently obscure the meaning (sorry Bing). I would suggest trying this method out yourself if you’ve enjoyed any of the other methods I’ve tried out.

Once again, any suggestions for future blog posts are much appreciated 🙂

“God is a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere.” ― Voltaire

The power of words

The Chronicles of Narnia ― C. S. Lewis

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Firstly let me say how irritated I just was when I typed ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ into Google image search, and was overcome with stills from the films. I had to add ‘book’ before I got anything of use.

I’m going to make this a short review, as this is a review of seven books in one I feel it necessary to keep it to the minimum or I could go on for an age.

I would recommend these books very highly to anyone who hasn’t read them, and would not want to spoil any part of them. Go out, buy the books, read them, read them to your children, buy them as gifts. I feel I would have loved these books even more had I read them as a child. I would recommend the Chronicles of Narnia for children far above the Harry Potter books, Philip Pullman’s dark materials or Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events. Not that the other series’ do not have their merits, but I would go so far as to say I would not let any of my children grow up without giving them the opportunity to experience these stories.

C S Lewis writes the stories in a way that everyone can understand, communicating at times with children on their level. I have read it written that C. S. Lewis had an incredibly strong respect for children, and felt the need to speak with them as if they were his equals and not beneath him. This is evident throughout the books, with C S Lewis coming up with little analogies to explain things which only a child will fully appreciate.

I know many people will know the basics of the Chronicles of Narnia, but I still don’t wish to ruin anything for those of you who are in the dark. Put very simply, the books follow the adventures of the Digory Kirke, Polly Plummer and the Pevensie family in the mysterious land of Narnia, and their encounters with the king of Narnia -Aslan.

I am sure there are people out there who will not enjoy the Chronicles of Narnia, partly due to their obvious theological content. It is well known that the books draw heavily in the bible, from the Creation Story through to the Book of Revelations. I have never been what I would call religious, I have yet to decide exactly what I believe in, no doubt one day I will decide but it will be my choice alone. However I believe that these books teach fantastic morals, and can be enjoyed on several levels.

The books are a great read as stories alone. The adventures are incredibly enticing, and kept me enthralled for hours at a time, to the point where I did not want to put the books down, reading one after another in quick succession. C S Lewis’ presents religion in such as way as to appeal to those who are not open to the ideas of Christianity, by giving them something which is meant first and foremost to be entertaining, presenting religious stories as works of fiction.

I feel as though the stories are meant to inspire children to love Aslan in the way that Christ should be loved. Not to force children into believing, but to help them understand how others feel. I felt myself falling completely in love with Aslan, for reasons I can not fully explain. Something in the way he is described -beautiful and yet terrible at the same time, the voice he is given and the words that he speaks very much appealed to me, as I’m sure they have to many people. There is one quote I will share with you from The Last Battle, when Aslan is explaining the difference between himself and the terrifying god Tash, which for me perfectly encapsulates the idea of religion, and when de-constructed is a fantastic moral to teach children:

“The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child?”

Ultimately Aslan is not speaking of serving one god or another, but of a way of living. It is a guideline, a moral, to be good and kind and feel the benefit of your actions, or to suffer as a result cruel choices.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed these books for what they were – stories. It was interesting for me to look at the theological aspect as well, but ultimately it was the stories that I enjoyed, and it is the stories that I recommend. Having finished the books I plan to lend them on to my younger siblings, who are of the perfect age to fully appreciate the stories.