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A Broken World by Sebastian Faulks

We have gathered all the fantastic reviews our Book Club Members have sent us this month.

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Glynis Miller

This is an extremely moving and thought provoking collection of ordinary peoples, experiences and memories of life during the Great War.

It clearly shows the horror and despair of those fighting on the front line alongside the depravation and concern felt by those left at home.

Although the articles have been broken into three sections, it is not the usual chronological order you would expect on a book about the Great War, and therefore you read about the end of the war quite early on.

A perfect book if you want something to read on a short train journey, as most articles are one or two pages long.

Chrissy Dunn

A fascinating mixture of viewpoints from many different perspectives. I really didn’t expect to be so moved but it gave me a brief look at how the First World War affected all people involved, from the soldiers who took part to families left behind and I was particularly surprised by what I didn’t know about the villages and families affected in the areas where the battles were actually fought. From my perspective as an Englishwoman it has opened my eyes to the horrors of wars for everyone.

Thank you for giving me this opportunity, it is not something I would have chosen to read but I'm so glad I have.

Valerie Bradley

A Broken World is a wonderful collection of writings about the Great War. There are letters, diaries and memories from famous people and the ordinary man in the street, which makes for evocative and emotive reading. There are amusing stories as well as sad ones, including one letter from a man serving on the front line to his wife including taking her to task for sending him items in his parcel from home which he tells her point blank he didn't want or need and mentioning those items which would be welcome. This letter is even more poignant as the man in question was killed in battle a few hours after he had written the letter.

The book is divided into four parts looking at the War from different angles. The Home Front, in battle, the repercussions of War, and the final part looking for what was lost. Many of the writings have already appeared in various collections including some from the Imperial War Museum Archive.

For me the most memorable piece in the book is found in Distant Hammers - Hearing and imagining from afar. Written by Sylvia Pankhurst (the daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and sister of Christabel) of Suffragette Movement fame. The excerpt was about a visit to Scarborough in 1914. Scarborough received a terrible battering by shell fire and she and her friend had great difficulty finding lodgings. Many of the landladies were reluctant to take lodgers as she, in common with many others, were ready and waiting to take in any shipwrecked seaman who might be saved from drowning. The boats were all minesweepers tasked with clearing away mines laid by German warships.

Because the book is in four distinct parts it is not possible to follow the time line of the War itself, but I found it the ideal book for dipping into at various times. For me it wasn't a book to sit down and read from cover to cover, but I nonetheless found it a very interesting and involving read. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in reading something of the more personal side of War and its effect on so many lives. Some of the pieces were written many years after the War so memories may have become distorted over time.

Pamela Lentschner

A Broken World is a fascinating collection of letters, diaries and other writings from World War I. The editors have carefully selected these to reflect different perspectives on the conflict, and have arranged the collection by theme, rather than chronologically. This gives an impressive breadth of contribution, allowing the reader to form connections across diverse geographical areas, time-scales and contributors.

The mood varies from stoic to poignant, and occasionally angry. A munitions worker speaks with acceptance of work that turned skin yellow and caused rashes to erupt; a war widow bitterly laments the fact that she cannot even afford to buy a poppy for Remembrance Day. Some extracts shock with their detailed portrayal of death and devastation; others engender a more general sense of sorrow in reflecting on what has been lost.

This is a powerful and thought-provoking collection of writings, with many original and unusual pieces. I often found the eyewitness accounts more moving than the extracts from celebrated authors – these carried a sense of the unspoken emotion lying behind prosaic accounts of events. A fresh and valuable perspective on one of the greatest conflicts of our time.

Anna Belfield

I was a little reticent when I received this book, as it is not one I would have picked myself, but the way it's put together lends it to being picked up and put down, letting you dip in and read a little, then think a lot or do a little research for yourself.

I have discovered a little more history, a little more off the real effects the war had and a taste of some authors I had not read before that I am sure I will look out for now.

All in all, a worthwhile read that will continue to give.

Shirley M Addy

A Broken World is a collection of diverse writings from the Great War. Of those away from the fighting, Virginia Woolf heard the guns booming in France as ‘the beating of gigantic carpets by gigantic women, at a distance.’ While street lamps in London were unlit as a precaution against Zeppelins some housewives hoped the price of rabbit to be less if it was bought in the darkness!

A British rifleman was killed mere hours after describing in a letter to his wife how he was ‘being struck by the exceptional beauty of the moon.’ From the other side, the artist Klee saw a plane that ‘had been flying too low, caught on a telephone pole, bounced on the roof of the factory, turned a somersault, and collapsed upside down’.

Remaining in Blighty had its perils. A conscientious objector was nearly thrown over a bridge by three women who had given him a white feather.

The journalist Arthur Mee hoped that the ‘Thankful Villages’ would give a mark of gratitude that all of their men who fought had returned from the war.

A Broken World with its many voices covering unexpected angles is a splendid anthology of the war to end all wars.

Dan Spector

A Broken World has reminiscences from World War I, some from famous people, but most from common folks. Many are from BBC series I Was There: The Great War Interview. There are also personal records from the Imperial War Museum.

Rather than progressing chronologically through the war, Faulks and Wolf present themes. “Distant Hammers”, has recollections from the first years of the war and reactions to the end in 1918. “Mind and Matter” contains the heart wrenching writings of those fighting on both sides of the lines. The letter to his wife by a soldier just a few hours before his violent death; the thoughts of a warrior after bayoneting an enemy soldier, compel readers to reflect on the personal meaning of combat. “Between Borders” recalls the feelings of those caught up in the war: soldiers, civilians, prisoners, and the hundreds of thousands moving to and fro over four years of battles. The sense of utter dislocation is stark. “White Spots” addresses the meaning or lack of meaning of the conflict.

Faulks is a noted author, skilled in telling a gripping story. Hope Wolf, PhD, adds an academic authority to the selections. You will not be disappointed in spending some time with the thoughts of those who experienced the Great War and its legacy.

Christine Waters

I have not read this book from cover to cover but have dipped into the defined four sections. I feel this is a coffee table book - a book to pick up when you have 5/10 minutes of quiet time. In this year of the anniversary of the First World War it is a timely reminder of the varying emotions, lifestyles and good and bad experiences of those who were affected in 1914-18. A thought provoking read.

Mary Watterson

A Broken World is a very apt title for this thought provoking collection of extracts from interviews, diaries and letters, which record memories and stories from a diverse selection of people both military and civilian who all endured the torment of the First World War.

There are optimistic letters sent from the trenches to anxious families; nurses recall the horrendous injuries of those they treated; refugees tell of the hardships they suffered; a soldier remembers "digging through bodies resembling Camembert cheese"; a mother writes "we were 9 round the table, now, I am only one". Contributions from different nationalities remind us it was a global conflict.

I particularly liked Vernon Lee's passage. She suggests that Bach's Christmas Oratorio she listened to in the Temple is also being played in churches in Germany and that Bach's fellow countrymen are united with the English in listening and sharing similar feelings of sorrow and hope.

The detailed bibliography gives the opportunity to explore further. As Sebastian Faulks states in his introduction "it is hard to appreciate the scale of what happened or to make sense of it."

John Sutherland

This book describes through a selection of letters, diaries and personal recollections, the experiences of life during the First World War. Rather than describing events in chronological order, the authors have categorised events by place. For example, the 'Mind and Matter' section describes the experiences of life on the trenches and associated areas.

For me it was evocative to read one soldier's last letter to his wife hours before he was killed. There are accounts from the well-known painter Paul Klee describing his experiences on the front and detailing how he spent his spare time relaxing by painting and drawing. The anxious and despairing letters that one mother sent to survivors of the Lusitania sinking are harrowing. It was amusing to read how some of the ladies of Girton College justified their time doing 'War Work'!

A Broken World provides the reader with a variety of experiences of life during the First World War whether it may be harrowing, insightful or shocking

Carol Fieldhouse

In a book full of poignant moments, one that particularly stands out is the comment of a young soldier sent a packet of seeds by his mother: "I have put them in, but do not suppose shall see them grow up, but some other sore head may be cheered...". This book is full of tiny, detailed snapshot moments such as this, which give the reader a sudden, vivid sense of what the experience of that moment must have been like for the one concerned - that is, in fact, the fascination of this absorbing and moving collection of memories and reflections upon the experience of the Great War, many previously unpublished and drawn from the archives of the Imperial War Museum. It is divided into sections, featuring excerpts from people on the Home Front and on the front line, from soldiers, family members, refugees and prisoners of war.

The most rewarding aspect of this book lies in its juxtaposition of the sometimes distressing memories of the soldiers at the front line, both German and British, as well as ones from the Empire and from the wider community of those involved - Russians or Belgians, for example, with those other voices, which speak to us of the nightmare that could come through any connection with war. Some are the memories of wives and family members, others are reflections from journalists, writers, political activists. All are notable for the interesting details and insights they provide in this fascinating book.

Sharon Kozub

I found this book to be a great collection of personal stories of those who fought in WW1 and the people on the home front.

Sometimes we think of the past and the people living then to be different from us, as if we were somehow smarter, more experienced. This book proves that we are all alike, caring, scared, loving family and friends. The "feelings" expressed in this book are inspirational and so valuable to society today. We must never forget the sacrifices made then for our freedom today. History is supposed to teach us what not to do...so why is it people are still at war? One quote from the book which has inspired me was ‘invasion is more than destruction of property...more than murder and pain. It is the heart of spiritual death ...and despair. The human spirit will prevail.’

Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts on this book.

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