Many books have been written about the Second World War, but there always seems room for more, and my two non-fiction choices for this post provide entirely different perspectives. The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larsen is an extensively researched account of Winston Churchill’s first year as wartime prime minister, 1940-41. I found the book very easy to read, partly because the detailed information about political and military events is brought to life by personal insights from the diaries of Churchill’s daughter Mary, his private secretary John Colville, and members of the Mass Observation project. Even though Churchill had his flaws and made some decisions which proved misguided, it is impossible not to admire his tremendous energy and stamina, his optimism and determination, his skills as a leader and orator which inspired the British people during the darkest days of the war.
In complete contrast is the extraordinary book When I Was Someone Else by a French journalist, Stephane Allix. During a spiritual retreat in Peru, Allix had a vision of a German soldier dying on a snowy battlefield, followed by scenes from the man’s life, and including his name. Allix became obsessed with this vivid experience, and from military archives discovered that a soldier of that name had served in the brutal Totenkopf division of the Waffen SS, and been killed during the 1941 Russian campaign. Allix was able to contact surviving relatives of the dead man and discover facts which corroborated the content of his vision. Having first assumed that the vision represented a past life of his own, Allix later concluded this was not so, but that the soul of the dead soldier had contacted him in search of forgiveness and healing. I did not know quite what to make of this book, but it will be of interest to students of paranormal phenomena such as reincarnation and spirit communication.
Turning to fiction, as usual I’ve been reading mainly mysteries and psychological thrillers, and I’ll mention two of them which were written by health professionals. Deadly Cure by Mahi Cheshire is about the rivalry between two young female doctors competing for a job at a research institute developing a vaccine against cancer. When the successful candidate gets murdered, suspicion falls on her rival. Some of the medical content is not credible, as the author – herself a doctor – would no doubt admit. But dramatic licence is allowable in fiction, and as light entertainment I found this short book quite gripping.
More grounded in grim realism is The Family Retreat, by clinical psychologist Bev Thompson. The story is narrated by a burnt-out GP who, with her young family, rents a summer holiday cottage near the Dorset coast. She makes friends with another woman who has children similar in age to her own, and they share some pleasant seaside picnics until a dark secret is revealed. This is a rather sombre read, with much reference to mental disorders and troubled relationships, and constant soul-searching by the narrator raising such questions as how far doctors should take responsibility for their patients’ lives, and why so many women submit to being imposed upon by men.