Friday, October 12, 2018

Voices from the Second World War from Candlewick Press, 2018

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In an intergenerational keepsake volume, witnesses to World War II share their memories with young interviewers so that their experiences will never be forgotten.

The Second World War was the most devastating war in history. Up to eighty million people died, and the map of the world was redrawn. More than seventy years after peace was declared, children interviewed family and community members to learn about the war from people who were there, to record their memories before they were lost forever. Now, in a unique collection, RAF pilots, evacuees, resistance fighters, Land Girls, U.S. Navy sailors, and survivors of the Holocaust and the Hiroshima bombing all tell their stories, passing on the lessons learned to a new generation. Featuring many vintage photographs, this moving volume also offers an index of contributors and a glossary.

(320 pages)

I both really loved this book and also didn't really like it.

I really love what it's doing. It takes the stories of people alive during WWII and records them in a format that is accessible for children (though perhaps sometimes a bit too heavy for them, for obvious reasons), saving them for posterity. There are stories from all different angles, from people who were soldiers during the war and people who were children, Jews and Germans and Poles and Brits and Americans and more telling their individual slivers of the grand narrative of the war.

On the other hand, I didn't really like it in parts because some of the stories–especially toward the beginning–were kind of boring: basically, "I was evacuated and lived on a farm for a while." Plus there was clearly some strong editing done, because most of the narratives were told in the same way, even though they came from vastly different people and were recorded in the first-person narrative.

I flipped forward after a while, and once we get into the later parts of the war and its end, then the really impactful stories begin. There are stories from several Jewish children who survived death camps, or whose parents went into them. There are pictures of the people back then, too, which made the stories so much more real. The one that is absolutely most shattering is a two-page spread of Hungarian Jews fresh off the cattle trucks at Auschwitz-Birkenau, waiting to be sorted. The caption informs us that only the strong were spared from being immediately sent to the gas chambers, and it's a thousand times more horrifying than just reading the fact because you can look into the faces of all these people about to be murdered.

It's - it's pretty hard, to be honest. Some of the material in this book is extremely horrifying and depressing. Add in a little bit of bad language (mainly a couple of "hell"s) and this is definitely not a book you should be handing off to your young children any time soon. But it is a pretty good collection of stories from across the war, tied together with explanations of the historical context, and I think it is important that we carry these stories with us into the future generations.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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