Forget the Greatest Generation (don’t worry, I don’t mean this literally, Tom Brokaw): World War I is having a moment. Of course, this first of the great wars, which saw the first widespread use of both air warfare and chemical weaponry, has never been totally missing from the literary canon. Think Pat Barker‘s brilliant Regeneration series, and, more recently, Jacqueline Winspear‘s Maisie Dobbs books (set after the war, but very clearly dealing with its effects) or A.S. Byatt’s 2009 Edwardian saga The Children’s Book. But the number of books about WWII has always dwarfed the number of books about WWI, a shorter conflict with a less clearly defined cause.
Maybe today’s muddled conflicts in countries we don’t completely understand is leading authors and readers to identify with a war that began with an assassination in the Balkans in 1914. But whatever the reason, there’s something in the air. Quality meditations, both fiction and non, on the fate of the Lost Generation are popping up everywhere. Observe:
The Missing of the Somme by Geoff Dyer (August). This slender book from an idiosyncratic novelist, essayist and journalist traces the ways that World War I has been memorialized.
To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild (May). This brilliant nonfiction study from one of today’s best history writers focuses on the anti-war protests of the time, during a conflict that was promoted as the “war to end all wars” and, tragically, was anything but. (Read the review.)
The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst (October). Hollinghurst’s last novel—which pubbed 7 years ago—won the Man Booker Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. This novel isn’t entirely set during World War I, but it follows the effects of a secret from that time on an English family over several decades.
Bright’s Passage by Josh Ritter (June 28). Lyrical and poetic, this debut from a talented singer-songwriter follows a man haunted by his service in WWI—look for our interview with Ritter online next week.
Have anything else to add to our list?