TalkRead the 1940s - September: War

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Read the 1940s - September: War

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Aug 27, 2019, 11:40am

September's topic is War, a very broad topic indeed!

As usual, books can be fiction or nonfiction, Viragos, Persephones, books by Virago/Persephone authors, or books that otherwise embody the "Virago spirit." They can be set in the 1940s, or published in the 1940s. In short, there are no rules here -- participants can set rules to suit themselves. For questions, comments, and general chat about the theme read go to our General Discussion thread.

Visit the Book Recommendations thread for help choosing books that fit the theme & monthly topic. We also have a fabulous Google spreadsheet created by Heather/souloftherose, which compiles and classifies all the book recommendations mentioned on the thread. The spreadsheet includes a "categories" column that shows which topic(s) each book would be suitable for. Below are links to two different views of the data:
* Full spreadsheet:
* Filtered on the "War" category:

Note that the filtered view does not work on mobile devices, and it may take a few extra seconds to load in your browser. Please let us know if you have any feedback or suggestions for the spreadsheet.


I don't know about you, but when I think about the 1940s my thoughts turn almost immediately to the war and its impact. There was a considerable amount of literature written during this period, and Virago authors certainly did their bit.

Please let us know what you're reading or planning to read, and share thoughts on your selections.

Aug 28, 2019, 2:53am

Thanks Laura! I can think of several unread Viragos and Persephones I have which fit for War!

Sep 2, 2019, 5:11am

I've started Good evening Mrs Craven and read the first few stories on the train this morning. What excellent, wry vignettes of life on the home front.

Sep 2, 2019, 11:26am

>3 Sakerfalcon: ooh, I loved that book.

Sep 3, 2019, 3:13am

I accidentally sort of read a book for this but from Furrowed Middlebrow: Peace, Perfect Peace is set just post-war, but the war has a huge effect on the book. Does that count, or is there a post-war month coming up?

Sep 5, 2019, 11:46am

>4 lauralkeet: I've finished it and love it too!

Now I've started Mr Fox by Barbara Comyns.

Sep 6, 2019, 2:45am

Now I'm reading Northbridge Rectory and that is certainly a wartime Virago!

Sep 9, 2019, 1:48am

Sep 9, 2019, 4:41am

I finished Mr Fox and really enjoyed it. A very original take on life during the war.

Now I've started An interrupted life. So far there's a bit too much focus on her psychotherapy treatment (which sounds highly dubious to me) but I will keep going.

Edited: Sep 12, 2019, 7:38am

Initially I thought I would read The Willow Cabin this month, but have changed my mind. It begins in the late 1930s and continues through wartime, but it's more about relationships than war. That, and the main character was making me angry by making stupid decisions on account of a man.

Looking over our recommendations lists, I found On the Side of the Angels which I have on the shelves, so I'll try that instead.

Sep 13, 2019, 5:05am

>10 lauralkeet: I disliked The willow cabin quite strongly when I first read it for the reasons you cite. I reread it earlier this year in the Relationships month and still found Caroline's infatuation with her lover and her willingness to ditch friends, family and her career for the chance of a brief meeting with him incredibly frustrating. However, the last section of the book somewhat redeems itself, although this will never be a favourite for me.

Finished An interrupted life. I found the first 150-200 pages of the diary heavy going as Etty focuses on her inner self and growth, with a lot of what felt like navel gazing. However as external events force themselves into her writing I found the narrative much more engaging, if difficult to read emotionally. The letters that she sent from the transit camp at Westerbork I found gripping reading, giving a vivid picture of the physical trials and emotional torment that all were suffering. The fact that the Nazis made certain Jews manage the fate of their fellows is appalling and Etty suffers intense inner conflict about this, while doing all she can to try and save her parents and brother from being transported to Poland. I feel like a bad person for not finding her psychological and spiritual growth interesting, instead being more drawn to the accounts of the outside world, but I'm afraid that's the truth. I do think it is an important document that should be as recognised as Anne Frank's diary, for a very different account of life under the Nazis in the Netherlands.

Now I've gone for a complete change of tone with Mrs Tim carries on.

Sep 13, 2019, 6:50am

>11 Sakerfalcon: Thanks for your comments on The Willow Cabin, Claire. Based on the book structure and the cover blurb, I wondered if the last section would make it all worthwhile. I think if this were the "Relationships" month I would have kept going, but I was much more interested in reading a book that was more about the war.

And I'd say you're due for a change of tone. An Interrupted Life sounds pretty intense.

Sep 13, 2019, 8:23am

Me too Claire. When I read the Etty Hillesum I found myself a little bored with her inner reflections. But then it all changes.

The Willow Cabin also. I loathed the love affair but did feel for her at the end.

Sep 22, 2019, 9:28am

I've now read On the Side of the Angels and loved it. It's a perfect fit for the "War" topic, but from an interesting angle: the book explores the war’s impact on prevailing views of masculinity, as experienced by two couples. And yet the women are also profoundly affected, both by wartime in general and by having to deal with the struggles of the men in their lives.

Sep 27, 2019, 8:11am

I finished Mrs Tim carries on and very much enjoyed it. There was a good balance of humour and uncertainty, and it's moving to remember that the war still had a few years to go when the book was published.

I read a historical novel called Lilac girls which I'm not counts for this month as it was only written a few years ago, although it's set in WWII. It focuses on Ravensbruck, the concentration camp for women, and especially the Polish women who were used for dubious medical experiments. There is a parallel thread that follows Caroline Ferriday, a real-life New York society woman and philanthropist who involves herself in the fate of the Polish women after the war. I had some quibbles with the book but overall it was a good read and very well researched. It has led me to my next book, which is If this is a woman, a non-fictional account of Ravensbruck. It's not an easy read of course, but I think it's important that the story is told. It is very good so far.

Sep 28, 2019, 9:19am

Odette Churchill was at Ravensbruck and there is a scene in the movie version of her story where her previously brutal female guard attempts to curry favor with her when the war ends.
Odette's story has been questioned since but, even if she was not the heroine she made herself out to be, just surviving in those circumstances is enough for me.

Oct 2, 2019, 9:01pm

Post-War October thread is here:

Oct 10, 2019, 1:04am

Finally finished Good Evening, Mrs. Craven: the Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes. Each story is a little gem of English home life during the war: clear, crisp, witty, insightful.

Oct 10, 2019, 6:46am

>18 kac522: Oh yes, that's a wonderful book.