This is a somewhat motley, though highly readable, collection of essays and reviews on the theme of human conflict. The author is a Scot and one wonders why his book was not brought out with a publisher in Scotland, or rather more positively, how the University of Wales Press came by the work.
Some of the parts are directly related to things Scottish and were first published in Scottish periodicals. These include an entertaining account of the difficulties into which the poet Ian Hamilton Finlay got with his garden known as Little Sparta in which he installed inscriptions and statuary of a neo-classic nature, and a short study of how Scottish poets responded in their writing to the desert campaigns of the Second World War. On seeing the latter listed in the Contents, I immediately tried to look up the song Farewell, Ye Banks of Sicily, one of the best war-poems I have ever heard, but was dismayed to find there was no Index, surely a strange omission in a book so varied and wide-ranging. There is, however, a small glossary of Scottish words which are used from time to time in the body of the text.
There are, too, a few excursions to Zimbabwe, Crete and Bosnia, where Calder finds much to interest him and us, as well as some attention given to Terence Rattigans The Deep Blue Sea and T. E. Lawrences The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. I am not at all sure that these pieces hang together as well as they might but I found each of them of considerable interest in their own right, rather than as part of an integrated whole. What pulls them together, perhaps, is the authors awareness of war down the ages and the importance of myth in how we remember and explain most conflicts. From Troy to Kossovo, we understand what happened first from factual accounts and then, with the passage of time, from the myths that are spun around them.
But the core of the book, at least for this reader, is the authors concern with the Second World War at home and abroad. I found particularly stimulating the chapters on the American presence in Britain between 1942 and 1945, the recent commemoration of the D-Day landings of June 1944, the memories of those who took part in the Battle of Britain, and the project known as Mass Observation by which the Government came to a better understanding of what was going on during the crisis. There is only one illustration and that is on the cover: it shows gunners manning a coastal battery in 1941 and they are partly dressed in fancy costume; a note explains that they had been called out of a Christmas party at short notice and hadnt had time to put on their battledress. This eye for significant detail informs all that Calder writes and throws into human relief the nature of the conflict.
I have greatly enjoyed this book and recommend it warmly to those who read gwales.
It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgement should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.
Gellir defnyddior adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatad Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.