Tuesday, 31 May 2011

War Poetry

Poetry from those taking part in conflicts has always seemed to me to be much more poignant and meaningful than that of a pacifist writing from the comfort of a nice cosy office, study or drawing room. The messages are much more hard hitting, and the images so much scarier from someone actually experiencing life in Afghanistan in 2009 or the Somme in 1916.

The following is a poem written by a soldier serving in Helmand:

Author's introduction-
This poem concerns the current operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. My intention was to draw parallels between military operations using the poppy which is grown extensively for opium and ironically is also the symbol we use for Remembrance Day.


Night on the cold plain,
invisible sands lift,
peripheral shadows stir,

space between light and dark
shrouding secrets;
old trades draped grey.

Here too poppies fall,
petals blown on broken ground,
seeds scattered on stone

and this bright bloom,
newly cropped,
leaves pale remains,

fresh lines cut;
the old sickle wind
sharp as yesterday.

John Hawkhead

This poem and many others appear on the War Poetry Website .

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Book Review: Berlin Noir by Philip Kerr

Maybe it's because I love travel, history and the darker side of life that I enjoyed reading this trilogy so much. Berlin Noir is the first three in a series of books written by Philip Kerr about Berlin detective Bernie Gunther. These three, March Violets, The Pale Criminal and A German Requiem are set in pre-war Berlin and post-war Vienna.

The books superbly create the atmosphere of the times and to someboy interested in history, especially German history in the first half of the twentieth century, the books are especially evocative. I have read few books about day to day life in Nazi Germany and these books added an extra depth to my understanding of life under the Nazis. The mood of the time is portrayed every bit as vividly as the great Patrick Hamilton writing about Britain in the same era.

Gunther is a fairly typical detective, highly moral, down to earth and slightly down at heel. His life is as battered by the events of the time as everybody else's was, which is the special attraction of these books. Issues of the time are confronted and the totalitarianism and anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany is confronted head on, with Gunther often being turned to for help by Jewish clients. But this isn't done in a mawkish or sermonising way, which makes the underlying message all the more powerful.

The plots are intricate but not confusing and the characters in the stories, from Gunther to post-war American intelligence operatives, are believable and real.  Personal lives and problems make these stories stand apart from many novels of the same genre, but again Kerr doesn't overplay or sentimentalise these aspects of his characters so the book never veers too far away from the crime/political thrillers that they so wonderfully are.

In fact my wife is considering starting one of my many Scandinavian crime novels by way of an introduction to the world of the foreign detective novel, maybe Bernie Gunther would be a fine introduction as she shares my love of European history. I would happily recommend Philip Kerr's books to her and to anybody else looking for crime stories that are not your run of the mill affairs. I look forward to starting on Kerr's fourth Gunther novel in the not too distant.