William Eastlake: The Bamboo Bed (1969)
Captain Clancy is leading his men across the Vietnam hills when he is mortally wounded. As he lies dying on his bamboo bed, search-and-rescue pilot Captain Knightsbridge makes love to the beautiful nurse Jane in his helicopter (which, in poignant synchronicity, is itself dubbed the “Bamboo Bed”). Meanwhile two hippies, Peter and Bethany, are attempting to resolve the conﬂict with ﬂowers and a guitar. Eastlake, a former war correspondent, redraws the Vietnam war as a surrealist fantasy, ﬁlled with grotesque comedy and philosophical deliberation. His irreverent approach conveys, with startling eﬀ ectiveness, the true absurdity of war.
JG Farrell: The Siege of Krishnapur (1973)
Farrell’s unconventional historical novel is set during the Indian Mutiny of 1857. The town of Krishnapur is under siege and the garrison is hard put to survive and, just as importantly to some of them, to cling to their Victorian values. They believe in science but their two doctors disagree about almost everything; they believe in their civilization but their subjects are rebelling. The local Indian populace picnic on a nearby hill and enjoy the spectacle of the unfolding drama. Violence is coolly recorded, derring-do excitingly narrated, yet this is a darkly funny book, whose unsentimental, omniscient narrator scrutinises the self-delusions of the colonialists.
Sebastian Faulks: Birdsong (1993)
Novels depicting the horrors of war are seldom more moving than Sebastian Faulks’ 1993 bestseller. After embarking on a doomed love aﬀair with the unhappily married Madame Azaire, Stephen Wraysford becomes an army oﬃcer ﬁghting in the ﬁrst world war. The novel traces Stephen’s harrowing experiences in the blood-soaked trenches of northern France, and his growing determination to survive the conﬂict. Almost universally considered Faulks’ ﬁnest moment to date, Birdsong hauntingly captures the essence of war in all its terrible brutality.
Ford Madox Ford: Parade’s End (1924-28)
Less well known than The Good Soldier, and considerably longer, Ford’s depiction of the ﬁrst world war and its impact on English society is a strangely haunting work. Christopher Tietjens, the central character, is passionately attached to a gentlemanly code that brings him nothing but trouble in Whitehall, the army and his marriage to the icy Sylvia. Ford’s kaleidoscopic descriptions of trench warfare are the book’s main claim on posterity, but the whole thing is shot through with an attractively eccentric sense of humour as well as nostalgia. Secondary characters include “Breakfast” Duchemin, an insane and sex-obsessed vicar.
CS Forester: The African Queen (1935)
Set in “German Central Africa” in late 1914. Rose Sayer, the spinster sister of an English missionary, ﬁnds herself alone when her brother dies. She befriends by a cockney sailor, Charlie Allnutt, commander of the decrepit African Queen. Rose persuades the cowardly Charlie to sail down the Ulanga river and blow up a German warship. The subsequent hardship brings them together as lovers. The African Queen sinks before they can make their suicidal strike. They are taken prisoner by the Germans, who treat them well. The enemy ship is eventually sunk by the Royal Navy. John Huston’s 1952 Oscar-winning ﬁlm starred Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart — playing against their conventional screen personalities.
George MacDonald Fraser: Flashman (1969)
The most enduringly popular of neo-Victorian novels. Flashman was the loathsome bully in Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays. Unlike that “prig” Brown, Flashy is not one to play up and play the game. On being expelled (for drunkenness and worse) from Dr Arnold’s Rugby, Harry Flashman joins the army to ﬁ ght, as an oﬃcer and anything but a gentleman, in the ﬁ rst Afghan war. It is the proverbial military cock-up. The series, allegedly based on the anti-hero’s “papers”, continued, volume by bestselling volume, to cast a cynical but hilariously comic anti-establishment light on “England’s century”. Ironically, Harry emerges as, underneath it all, rather a good fellow. A dispiriting number of American reviewers assumed this ﬁrst volume to be authentic autobiography.
Charles Frazier: Cold Mountain (1997)
In Frazier’s Civil-war era novel, the injured and disillusioned Confederate soldier John Inman begins a long, treacherous journey back to his home to Ada, the woman he loves. On Cold Mountain, after the death of her father, Ada is struggling to run the farm she is ill-equipped to manage, until the arrival of the illiterate but formidably resourceful Ruby helps her to take control of her future. Echoes of Homer’s Odyssey run throughout and there are allusions to Ralph Waldo Emerson in a novel which is both an exploration of man’s relationship to nature and a narrative of the human devastation of war.
Alex Garland: The Beach (1996)
This, more than any other, was the novel that launched a thousand gap years. For a short time in the late 1990s, a copy of Alex Garland’s huge bestseller was as much a staple of the travel kit as spare socks and a toothbrush. The story of Richard, roaming Asia in search of a secret Thai island, inspired an entire generation of backpackers. Its star might have waned in recent years — thanks in part to Danny Boyle’s disappointing ﬁlm adaptation — but as a cautionary tale of paradise gone wrong, it still packs a mighty punch.
William Golding: To the Ends of the Earth trilogy (1980-89)
A warship journeys from Old Albion to the Antipodes, some time in the early 1800s. We chart its progress through the journal of Edmund Talbot, whose tone is at ﬁrst arrogant, as beﬁts a young man with aristocratic connections. His chronicle of shipboard life eventually comes to focus on the decline of the Reverend Colley, a “new-hatched parson” who is gradually destroyed by his own lethal innocence and the cruelty of others. The sailing ship’s closed community provides the perfect setting for Golding’s brilliant and unsparing depiction of man’s capacity for inhumanity to man.
René Goscinny Asterix the Gaul (1959)
Hard to imagine that anyone might not have encountered Asterix before they’ve grown up, let alone died. Spawning TV spin-oﬀs, movies and theme parks, he is arguably not just a global cultural phenomenon, but part of the mental landscape of childhood. Let’s face it: Asterix, not Caesar, has shaped our understanding of the Gallic wars — and he is also the only means by which many of us could enjoy learning French. Asterix the Gaul, the ﬁrst part of a series currently totalling 33, is still the best way to start.
Günter Grass: The Tin Drum (1959)
When The Tin Drum was published “it was as if German literature had been granted a new beginning”, stated the Nobel committee’s citation. This vibrant epic covers German history during the ﬁrst half of the 20th century through the eyes of a diminutive protagonist. At the age of three, the precocious Oskar Matzerath decided to stop growing and acquired the ability to shatter glass with his scream. He was also given his ﬁrst toy drum which became an extension of himself. Earthy, anarchic and funny, Oskar’s adventures brim with humour, insights and magical realist invention.
Robert Graves: Count Belisarius (1938)
The Emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora are now familiar mainly from their mosaic portraits in Ravenna. With their greatest general, Belisarius, and his remarkable wife Antonina, they are brought to life in Graves’s lavishing story of 6th-century Byzantium. Campaigns in Persia, Carthage, Sicily and Italy, and a vibrant cast of dancing girls, concubines, charioteers, bear masters, Nestorian monks and Herulian Huns, and even a whale called Porphyry, combine to make this a vibrant account of a period that should be
Vasily Grossman: Life and Fate (1960)
As a Soviet journalist in the 1940s, Vasily Grossman reported from the battle of Stalingrad and published the ﬁrst account in any language of the Nazi death camps. Completed in 1960 but not published until the 1980s, and then only outside the USSR, Life and Fate is a conscious attempt to write the War and Peace of the second world war. Grossman takes his readers into Auschwitz and the Lubyanka, but he also describes the sense of freedom brieﬂ y experienced by the defenders of Stalingrad before the state reasserted its grip on their lives.
CT Rawi Hage: De Niro’s Game (2006)
Hage’s ﬁrst novel, a blistering portrait of adolescent swagger set against the Lebanese civil war, came from nowhere to win the Impac award. War-torn Beirut has been a childhood playground for Bassam and George; now the former is dabbling in petty crime to fund his escape, while the latter looks for status and purpose with the local militia. In prose that is brutal, tender, bitter and deadpan by turns, Hage sketches a fresh and utterly convincing portrait of war’s brutalising eﬀects.
H Rider Haggard: King Solomon’s Mines (1885)
If Robert Louis Stevenson could do it with Treasure Island, why couldn’t he write a rattling adventure yarn for the millions, wondered Haggard? The result was this primal episode in the eventful life of “Hunter” Allan Quatermain of Natal. The big-game man is approached by Henry Curtis and Captain John Good to ﬁ nd Curtis’s younger brother, who has disappeared in the interior of the dark continent — allegedly in search of the fabulous diamond mines of King Solomon, somewhere beyond the “Breasts of Sheba” mountains. The quest involves battles with natives and the discovery of both the lost white man and the Solomonic treasure. The novel — one of the great page-turners in English literature — launched the author on a bestselling literary career.
H Rider Haggard: She (1887)
The sexiest of Haggard’s many African yarns. Leo Vincey is left an iron box by his dead father, to be opened when he is 25. It contains the startling information that he is descended from an ancient Egyptian priest, Kallikrates. Leo is instructed to go to Africa and kill the mysteriously immortal queen whok killed Kallikrates. Braving shipwreck, cannibals, and crocodiles, Leo ﬁnally discovers Ayesha, or “She”, high in an impenetrable mountain range. She takes Leo as her lover. At the heart of her lair, she shows him the pillar of life — a ﬂame that ensures immortality. But, perversely, when she enters it, the ﬁre restores Ayesha to her true 2,000 years of age, and she dies resembling a shrivelled monkey. Leo returns to England, a wiser and older man. Few read the novel nowadays without visualising Ursula Andress, who made the titular character her own in the ﬁlm version.
Patrick Hamilton: The Slaves of Solitude (1947)
This short novel’s slightly silly title and unexciting-sounding setting haven’t always worked to its advantage, but Hamilton’s fans consider it one of his best. In his hands, the story of a festering quarrel between the inmates of a dreary suburban boarding house becomes a comic tour de force as well as an unusually sardonic depiction of life on the home front during the second world war. Mr Thwaites, the heroine’s tormentor-in- chief, is one of Hamilton’s most memorably unpleasant characters, and the book’s mixture of pathos and comedy is perfectly judged.
Robert Harris: Enigma (1995)
In March 1943, a group of codebreakers are attempting to break the German U-boat Enigma cipher from their secret Buckinghamshire base. Among them is Tom Jericho, who is in love with the beautiful but mysterious Claire Romilly. Her sudden disappearance, amidst suspicion that the team has been inﬁ ltrated by a spy, propels Tom on to a desperate mission to uncover the truth. This twist-laden thriller, later adapted into a screenplay by Tom Stoppard, popularised the previously little-known story of Bletchley Park. That the site’s imminent closure is currently the subject public campaign is a strong testament to the power of Harris’s story.
Jaroslav Hasek: The Good Soldier Svejk (1923)
Hasek was 39 when he died of tuberculosis, after decades of boozing and vagrancy. The Czech anarchist and prankster, once sacked by a wildlife publisher for writing articles about non-existent animals, didn’t get around to ﬁnishing his life’s great work, and translator Cecil Parrott claims that “sometimes it is apparent that he must have been drunk when he was writing”. Yet there is an irresistible, feverish energy to this picaresque comedy about a little man dodging the horrors of the great war. Without Svejk, Joseph Heller has said, there would have been no Catch-22.
Ernest Hemingway: For Whom the Bell Tolls
Anyone who comes to this novel expecting simplicity of style and unthinking machismo will be swiftly disabused. Rather, this story of an American joining forces with Andalucian freedom ﬁghters during the Spanish civil war is one of ﬁction’s most searching considerations of altruism, accountability and sacriﬁce. Hemingway’s deliberate archaisms and literalised Spanish jolt the reader into thinking a fresh about choices and the motives behind them. And it is a wonderful evocation of what it means to love a land and a people other than one’s own.
Anthony Hope: The Prisoner of Zenda (1894)
The novel which bequeathed adventure-ﬁ ction writers “Ruritania” — one of the genre’s most proﬁ table territories. Visiting the country, Rudolf Rassendyll is observed uncannily to resemble the soon-to-be- crowned King Rudolf. Villainous Duke Michael abducts him and Rassendyll is prevailed upon to impersonate the monarch whom, with the assistance of loyal Fritz von Tarlenheim, he later rescues. Things are romantically complicated when Rassendyll falls in love with the King’s intended bride, the Princess Flavia. Having put Ruritania to rights, he returns to England and a somewhat pointlessly unadventurous existence. Hope was inspired to write the novel by seeing two men in a London street who closely resembled each other.
Khaled Hosseini: The Kite Runner (2003)
Afghanistan, the land no outside power can conquer, is captured
in all its colour and complexity in Hosseini’s astonishing debut. Two boys grow up in the same household: Amir is privileged while Hassan is virtually a servant, but they remain uneasy allies until a brutal incident during Kabul’s annual kite-ﬂying festival inﬂicts wounds that will never heal. A moving and ultimately life-aﬃrming story of love and betrayal, redemption and forgiveness, and private worlds destroyed by public horrors.
Richard Hughes: A High Wind in Jamaica (1929)
Before Lord of the Flies there was A High Wind in Jamaica, an unﬂinching, wryly observed portrait of the madness of children. Hughes ﬁlters his pirate adventure through the sensibilities of a band of middle-class siblings, and the eﬀect is intoxicating. These primal creatures come at events from left-ﬁeld — fastening on certain details while glossing over others, so that terrible events ﬂutter, half-glimpsed, in the shadows. Some of these are even caused by the children themselves.
Samuel Johnson: Rasselas (1759)
Tired of a life of constant pleasure in Happy Valley, Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, travels to Egypt to meet scholars, astronomers, shepherds, hermits and poets, and discovers that “while you are making the choice of life, you neglect to live”. He then returns to Abyssinia. Written in eight days to pay for his mother’s funeral, Dr Johnson’s philosophical romance became a bestseller when it was published in 1759. The plot is thin and “nothing is concluded”, but its true appeal is as an essay on the nature of happiness and the vanity of human wishes.
James Jones: From Here to Eternity (1951)
Set in Hawaii in 1941, just before the attack on Pearl Harbor, this novel is loosely based on the author’s experiences in the US army. The story follows several characters, including Captain Dana “Dynamite” Holmes and First Sergeant Milt Warden, but at its heart is a conﬂict between authority and individuality, as Private Robert E Lee Prewitt stubbornly resists the treatment meted out to him by his superiors to crush his spirit. Published in 1951, it became a bestseller and gave the world a memorable ﬁctional hero who dares to take on the system.
MacKinlay Kantor: Andersonville (1955)
The Confederate prisoner-of-war camp Andersonville held 33,000 Union POWs during the American civil war of 1861 to 1865. Based on prisoners’ memoirs, this Pulitzer prize-winning novel appeared in 1955, and uses real and ﬁctional characters to explore the conditions in the camp from multiple viewpoints. The book includes a sympathetic portrait of Henry Wirz, the camp’s commandant, as well as the camp physician and various guards. Kantor also shows how the ordinary prisoners were preyed upon by a gang of thugs called the Raiders, led by a Union soldier called William Collins.
Thomas Keneally: Confederates (1979)
This realist epic, shortlisted for the Booker prize, follows a ragbag Confederate army as it crosses Virginia to take part in the 1862 Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest conﬂ ict of the American civil war. Drawing on his extensive research of the incident, Keneally spares the reader none of the horrors of war. He also adds a level of personal conﬂict, intrigue and romance by focusing on Private Usaph Bumpass, his wife Ephaphtha and her lover Decatur Cate, who is one of Usaph’s companions or “confederates” in the battle. Retribution comes when Cate suﬀers an emasculating injury.
Thomas Keneally: Schindler’s Ark (1982)
Oskar Schindler, a German businessman and Nazi party member, set up a factory in Poland producing supplies for the German army. By the end of the war he had become an unlikely hero, risking his life to save more than a thousand Jews from being sent to the concentration camps. Inspired by meeting a Schindler survivor, and based on the testimonies of survivors and documents of the period, Keneally’s historical novel caused an outcry when it won the Booker in 1982. Was it a work of ﬁction or faction? Liam Neeson starred in Spielberg’s screen adaptation, Schindler’s List.
AL Kennedy: Day (2007)
A young Lancaster tail-gunner during the second world war, Alfred F Day, bonds with his crew on an RAF bomber. When his plane is shot down, he parachutes to safety in a German prisoner-of-war camp, but after the war he discovers his crew are all dead. In 1949, while employed as an extra in a war ﬁlm about a prison camp, the painful memories come ﬂ ooding back. Through an extraordinary act of ventriloquism, she describes the waste and eventual resurrection of a young life shattered by war,” said the judges when they awarded Kennedy the Costa Book of the Year in 2007. “This book is a masterpiece.”
Arthur Koestler: Darkness at Noon (1940)
Along with Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (which it strongly inﬂuenced), Koestler’s novel expresses his generation of intellectuals’ traumatic disillusionment with Soviet Communism — the “God that Failed” (as a book edited by Koestler called it). The narrative centres on the scandalously corrupt Moscow “show trials” (in fact a bloody Stalinist purge) of the 1930s. The novel ponders the question, why did so many of the accused meekly confess their guilt in court? The answer is given in the person of Koestler’s hero, Rubashov, who, under interrogation, is eventually “educated” into the admissions of wrongdoing that lead, inevitably, to his execution.
Jerzy Kosinski: The Painted Bird (1965)
After losing his parents in the mayhem of the second world war, a Polish child wanders through the countryside at the mercy of the brutal and ignorant central or eastern European villagers he encounters, who assume he is a Jew or a Gypsy. When it ﬁ rst appeared in 1965, this controversial novel full of graphic descriptions of murder, torture, rape and bestiality was widely regarded as semi-autobiographical, but is now accepted as ﬁ ction. Dogged by controversy, Kosinski committed suicide in 1991, leaving behind a note: “I am going to put myself to sleep now for a bit longer than usual. Call it Eternity.”
Primo Levi: If Not Now, When? (1982)
Levi, most renowned for his coruscating documentary report on life in a concentration camp, If This Is A Man, published this, his only novel, in 1982. Set in 1943, it follows a group of Jewish partisans making their way, behind enemy lines, across a Europe unmarked by place names and directions, with Palestine their aim. The horrors they have endured are revealed only through dreams and halting recollections and, as in all Levi’s work, their days are characterised by the biggest threat of all: the disease of despair. “The war would last forever: death, pursuit, escape would never end, the snow would never stop falling, day would never break.”
Jack London: The Call of the Wild (1903)
St Bernard Buck leads a good, even pampered life when he is abducted, sold into a team of dogs pulling sleds across the frozen Alaskan landscapes, transporting a new “yellow metal” that is changing men’s natures. “It was his introduction to the reign of primitive law, and Buck met it halfway.” Only the most extreme of traits — human or otherwise — are on show in London’s classic, relentless adventure story. Good, evil, respect, dignity, primal fear, blood lust, leadership, greatness and cowardice are all in constant battle as Buck struggles for survival against his new owners and the “devil dog” Spitz. Nicola Barr
Alastair Maclean: The Guns of Navarone (1957)
Maclean evokes a daring British second world war commando raid against the ﬁctional German-held island of Navarone. It is the German guns of the title that must be silenced to permit the evacuation of the British troops from a nearby island, and so change the course of the war. As loved for the depiction of his heroes’ backgrounds as for a plot that is unapologetically light on character development but big on thrills and daring do.
Cormac McCarthy: All the Pretty Horses (1992)
In the ﬁ rst novel in McCarthy’s Border trilogy, 16-year-old John Grady Cole, the last in a line of Texan ranchers, and his friend Lacey Rawlins travel across the border into Mexico in search of adventure in a brutal and unfamiliar country. There they meet the reckless Jimmy Blevins, a younger teenager in possession of a ﬁne horse that may not be his, a pistol and a nose for trouble. Jimmy loses the horse and pistol in a storm; John and Lacey decide to help get them back, setting oﬀ a fatal chain of events which also have consequences for Cole’s love aﬀ air with the daughter of a Mexican ranch owner. This is both a coming of age story and an elegy for a lost American era.
Cormac McCarthy: Blood Meridian (1985)
Blood Meridian is not a revisionist western so much as a gore-soaked demolition of the myth of manifest destiny. Using the true-life Glanton gang as its touchstone, McCarthy drops an unnamed protagonist (“the kid”) in among a band of bounty hunters and proceeds to paint the frontier in stark, Darwinian terms — as a brutal, bloody free-for-all. The New World is born out of violence. It belongs not to the humble settler but to men such as “the judge”, a corpulent, amoral monster who by the ﬁ nal chapter has emerged victorious.
Johnston McCulley: The Mark of Zorro (1919)
California in the 1880s was the origin of the famous masked crusader and camper, sexier and more ironic American-style Robin Hood. McCulley’s novel introduced to the world the eﬀete, foppish, aristocratic Don Diego Vega and his swashbuckling, masked alter ego ﬁghting those who exploit the poor. Just as fabulous are the corrupt governor, the hard-drinking Sergeant Gonzales, the revenge-hungry Captain Raman and the beautiful Señorita Lolita Pulido, who is torn between the man she loves and the man who will restore her reputation.
Norman Mailer: The Naked and the Dead (1948)
Mailer was just 26 when his debut novel was published, three years after the end of the second world war. His tale of a platoon of young American soldiers making their way through treacherous jungle on the Japanese-held island of Anopopei was without respite. Its focus on the ordinary American in all his bullying pettiness and fear, its detailed depictions of armed combat and insight into the psychology of men in pursuit of power caught the mood of an American public searching for the reality of war; it made this a bestseller and Mailer a superstar.
André Malraux: La Condition Humaine (1933)
Shanghai 1927. A random assortment of foreign communists and home-
grown terrorists join forces to overthrow their rulers in Malraux’s great novel. “Europeans never see the points of similarity between China and their own countries,” one character remarks, but this account of young men seeking meaning in their lives through indiscriminate carnage and terror in the name of an abstract higher good, of foreign nationals drawn to idealistic causes overseas, is as relevant and illuminating now as it was 75 years ago.
Olivia Manning: The Fortunes of War novels (1960-80)
Six novels in two trilogies: The Balkan Trilogy comprising The Great Fortune, The Spoilt City and Friends And Heroes and The Levant Trilogy comprising The Danger Tree, The Battle Lost And Won and The Sum Of Things. Harriet Pringle and her infuriating communist husband Guy ﬂee the German invaders through Romania and Greece to Cairo, in a novel thronging with expatriates, eccentrics and wisdom. This is a brilliant portrait of a particular marriage and of the world at war. Dramatic, comic and entirely absorbing, it was televised, equally brilliantly, by the BBC in 1987.
Gabriel Garcia Márquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967)
The jungle town of Macondo is a place where it is as possible to ascend heavenwards while hanging the laundry as to be machine-gunned by
agents of the local banana company. Márquez’s looping chronology and extended cast of interrelated characters give us history as a continuous
process of repetition and reconﬁ guration. This novel remains the beacon of magical realism and the standard bearer for Latin American literature; in Spanish, only Don Quixote has been more successful. Fluid, funny, wise, political: a perfectly achieved meditation on memory and the workings of ﬁction.
Frederick Marryat: The Children of the New Forest (1847)
Marryat’s last and most famous novel, set in 1647. The Royalist cavalier, Colonel Beverley, is killed at the Battle of Naseby. His wife dies shortly thereafter, leaving their four children orphans. The Roundheads burn
the Beverleys’ house, Arnwood, and the children, thought dead, are given refuge by a faithful old retainer, Jacob Armitage, in his cottage in the New Forest. The story follows their growing to adulthood and — with the Restoration — the rebuilding of Arnwood and the Beverley family fortunes. The novel was immensely popular with Victorian children and became the pattern for innumerable juvenile tales over the next century.
Herman Melville: Moby-Dick or, The Whale (1851)
We all know the story: man seeks unattainable object of deranged desire and causes general devastation in the process. This is the novel of restless human drive: to perfection, to mastery, to madness, to write a novel in the ﬁrst place, to aim for something other than “a damp, drizzly November in the soul”. A Very Big Theme, necessarily expressed in dense, wildly idiosyncratic prose as ambitious as Ahab himself. But also: the best book ever written about whaling, which means the most richly detailed novel of the sea, work, friendship and ecology.
James Michener: Tales of the South Paciﬁc (1847)
Now eclipsed by the fame of the Rogers and Hammerstein musical South Paciﬁc, Michener’s collection of linked stories detailing the activities of American servicemen, nurses, native islanders and expats on the islands of the Coral Sea during the second world war won him the Pulizter prize in 1948. The exotic Tonkinese ladies and wistful Bali Hai romances give it lasting (and musical) appeal, but the morality of Michener’s tales is that heroism is not only seen on the battleﬁeld, and his commander-narrator’s voice has a downbeat languor that captures the spirit of a war- weary nation (“The waiting. The timeless, repetitive waiting.”)
Elsa Morante: History (1974)
Ida, a widowed schoolteacher, is living in 1940s Rome with her two sons: Nino, a reckless and angry teenager, and baby Giuseppe, conceived when Ida is raped by a German soldier. She (like Morante herself) is half-Jewish, and lives in a permanent state of fear that her forbidden faith will be discovered. Morante’s eight-part epic closely examines Jewish identity in a context of Aryan domination. The contrast between Nino’s involvement in the war and Giuseppe’s unsullied innocence further demonstrates the corrupting eﬀect of war on its victims’ sense of self.