Friday, November 3, 2017

Innocent Heroes by Sigmund Brouwer, 2017

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A unique celebration of the important role animals play in war, and an insightful look at the taking of Vimy Ridge from the perspective of 3 men in a Canadian platoon.

Never before have the stories of animal war heroes been collected in such a special way. This book consists of eight connected fictional stories about a Canadian platoon in WW1. The Storming Normans have help from some very memorable animals: we meet a dog who warns soldiers in the trench of a gas attack, a donkey whose stubbornness saves the day, a cat who saves soldiers from rat bites, and many more. Each story is followed by nonfiction sections that tell the true story of these animals from around the world and of the Canadian soldiers who took Vimy Ridge. Through the friendship that grows between three of these soldiers in particular, we get a close-up look at life in the trenches, the taking of Vimy Ridge, the bonds between soldiers and their animals and what it meant to be Canadian in WW1.

(208 pages)

This was an interesting blend of fiction and truth, interspersing a made-up, animal-centric storyline about men in a Canadian platoon during WWI with real facts about the animals featured in the different chapters.

On one hand, I really loved learning about all those different animals from WWI–and the Canadian platoon they were with, since I barely even knew before now that Canada participated in WWI! But then at times I felt like the way it was done, switching between chapters of fictional stories and then nonfictional explanations, made the narrative feel really disjointed. I kept forgetting who the various people were for quite a long time because I didn't read about them for so long in between chapters.

Also, and I suppose this is just an interesting cultural perspective, there is a lot of emphasis put on the supposed superiority of Canadian military tactics (basically, the generals see their soldiers as equals and give them room to interpret assignments as they wish) over the much more top-down American and British structures. While it does sound like the Canadian system is the one I would like to be in, I really don't know enough about military tactics to know which is ideal; I do, however, know from reading the book that Brouwer is definitely heavily in favor of Canada. And it's actually really interesting to read about WWI and military tactics from such a different angle than I usually do. I mean, let's be honest, there's really not much material out there about the Canadian perspective on most of the big wars.

Basically, it's a good book with a lot of interesting details that gets bogged down at times by the alternating format it's written in. I still liked it, though, and I suspect a lot of other people–especially kids with a passion for army history–will too, If you read it, please be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments section down below!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from a LibraryThing Early Reviewer giveaway.

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