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The Wars by Timothy Findley is one of my favorite novels.Written in 1977, the title of the novel refers both to WW1 and the psychological effects of warfare on the psyche of our protagonist Robert Ross The war within the war so to speak.Robert is from Lethbridge Alberta and the novel follows him as a 17 year old on the prairie, then through the war in France and continuing with his leave and convalescence in England Back home Robert is raised by a cold mother and a caring father After a family tragedy, for which his mother assigns the blame to Robert, he immediately enlists in the Army with his two buddies Sent overseas they encounter the repeated horrors of trench warfare As Robert sees so much death his temper and PTSD begin to manifest Towards the end of the novel, he saves hundreds of horses from certain death on the front line in direct violation of his superior s orders and then Robert goes berserk and is on the run.His story is stitched together in vignettes by the historian and narrator of the novel Perhaps the most memorable character in the novel, Lady Juliet d Orset, tells the story she knew of Robert from his leave and convalescence at her estate some fifty years prior As a teen Juliet, she emphasizes it is pronounced Joolyut , wrote in her diary about Robert for whom she had a crush But Robert was romantically involved with her sister To wit there are some funny voyeuristic scenes from a spying Juliet The ending of the novel, perhaps not realistic, is heart wrenching I was so invested in all of these characters And this book is about so much than war Findley draws a remarkable assemblage of strong and memorable female characters on the home front It is the female characters who tell his story 5 stars Another one for my six star shelf A beautiful novel.
[[ Free ]] ↬ The Wars ☂ Robert Ross, A Sensitive Nineteen Year Old Canadian Officer, Went To War The War To End All Wars He Found Himself In The Nightmare World Of Trench Warfare Of Mud And Smoke, Of Chlorine Gas And Rotting Corpses In This World Gone Mad, Robert Ross Performed A Last Desperate Act To Declare His Commitment To Life In The Midst Of Death The Wars Is Quite Simply One Of The Best Novels Ever Written About The First World War Moving account of one Canadian man s experience with World War 1 The novel is barely 200 pages, so what we have here is no sweeping coverage of the war, nor an in depth immersion in the horrors But we get enough pictures of Robert Ross s life leading up to the war for his character to shine through and then sufficient samples from the stages of his training and long service at Ypres in Belgium to feel very intimately the destructive power of the War to End All Wars Findley uses plain and clear prose to render events that Robert experienced without presuming to know what he felt At the beginning of the book we get a foreshadowing of the story of Robert Ross An unknown historian or journalist is trying to piece together his life in World War 1 from the time point of the author s present in the late 70 s A large archive of letters and photos he is working with seems to present a metaphor for how history is such a challenging task of reconstruction Spread over table tops, a whole age lies in fragments underneath the lamp. One picture captures the essence of the fictional author s quest for understanding Robert Ross comes riding straight toward the camera His hat has fallen off His hands are knotted to the reins They bleed The horse is black and wet and falling Robert s lips are parted He leans along the horse s neck His eyes are blank There is mud on his cheeks and forehead and his uniform is burning long, bright tails of flame are streaming out behinds him He leaps through memory without a sound You lay the fiery image back in your mind and let it rest You know it will obtrude again and again and again until you find its meaning here.The story of Robert is that of an ordinary, sensitive man, just trying to do the right thing for the good of his country He was very attached to his hydrocephalic sister who died as a teen Having to kill an injured horse on the transport ship Robert is his introduction to the horrors of war, and it connects directly to his father forcing him as a boy to kill his sister s rabbits after she dies As a 2nd Lieutenant, he is forced him to strive for leadership, while at the same time he has to carry out orders by officers blind to the realities in the front line He has no recourse to religious beliefs to help him make sense of the pervasive slaughter this war was marked by We can only imagine whether he could buy into what one unusually kind officer wrote to his daughter before committing suicide Touch these pages and you have me in your fingertips We survive in one another Everything lives forever Believe it Nothing dies I am your father always.Interviews with an army nurse in her 80 s reveals at the book s outset that Robert saved a lot of horses from a burning barn, that he did something to get arrested, and that he was terribly burned and spent a long time in a hospital She is also the apparent mouthpiece later on for what Findley is trying to portray in writing this book My opinion was he was a hero You see, he did a thing that no one else would even dare think of doing Well, it was the war that was crazy, I guess Not Robert Ross or what he did. By contrast, the leaders who started and managed the warsuch men are just the butcher and the grocer selling us meat and potatoes across the counter That s what binds us together The appeal of our basest instincts The lowest common denominatorThe only other source from someone who knew Robert was a sister of a lover he briefly had Her journal as a young girl contains a poignant summary judgment of the war from a brother who also was in combat Someone once said to Clive do you think we will ever be forgiven for what we have done They meant their generation and the war and what the war had done to civilization Clive said something I ve never forgotten He said I doubt we ll ever be forgiven All I hope is that they ll remember we were human beings. I waited a little while to write this review, because it felt like a book I needed to muse over for a while But to be honest I don t think the extra time helped my feelings about this book are still a bit muddled and overwhelming I did like it very much, although maybe not quite as much by the end as I thought I would at the beginning I think the narrative structure although objectively I can say that it works very effectively kept me from connecting emotionally to the degree that I expected to with the character That said, the theme is one that I found to be extremely moving a sensitive soul, struggling to both retain his humanity and reconcile his extreme empathy in one of the darkest periods in recent history I feel a great affinity with characters like Robert who feel deeply, who hate to see innocents whether human or animal suffer As a highly sensitive person who cannot watch news stories or even violent scenes in movies that involve cruelty towards children or animals without being haunted for months or even years after, I know how impossible it is to control that extreme empathy sensitivity trait That s a key theme in this book, what happens to a person with extreme empathy who is trapped in the nightmare of World War I, a period which brought out so much darkness and cruelty in so many, and destroyed so many innocents.There are scenes moments in this novel that are so incredibly moving, and as I said above the theme hits very close to home The only reason that I rated it 4 stars instead of 5, is that the archivist detached perspective kept me from fully connecting with Robert, despite how much I identified with some of his reactions and traits While I think the structure works well enough for the novel, my personal taste tends towards intimate connections with characters I really wanted to get inside his head instead of just read the conjectures and recollections of others, and be there when the exposure to so much darkness led him to unravel and act in the only way he could. I was very impressed by this war novel one of the best I have read The I progressed in the book, the enad I became, and drawn into the different settings and characters All was wonderfully envisioned as one becomes immersed in the narrative The ending is view spoiler tragic hide spoiler I hate reviewing Timothy Findley books The reason is, I m always at a loss for words because of how emotionally straining it is to read one of his novels I hate rereading my review of Not Wanted on the Voyage because I realize that my words don t do justice to his books, and most of my review was a rant about Margaret Atwood Let s not get off track I ll try to express my feelings about this book as coherently as I can I m on such an emotional high from finishing the book, that I feel like I m writing an e mail after a glass of Chardonnay Drunk mailing they say The Wars takes place during the First World War It follows the military career of a sensitive young Canadian soldier, Robert Ross Robert Ross is thrown into the front lines, where he witnesses the atrocities of trench warfare.I know, I know You re probably thinking that you ve seen this all before, just another piece of antiwar literature But it s much Findley really takes it up to the next level He portrays the hell that is war without making it seem over the top, or comical.The story is told through the perspectives of a historian, and a handful of people that knew Ross The story can often seem fragmented because it often switches from a first, second, and third person point of view, but because each perspective has such a distinct voice, it completely works Although this is a book about war, and there are definitely some BADASS moments in this book, the baddest moment involves peeing into handkerchiefs, yes you read that right what really stands out for me is the depth of Ross s character Here is a young man, just freshly emerged from boyhood He wants to escape life with a dysfunctional family, so he enlists for war The little tidbits about the Ross family in Canada had me very close to tears Robert Ross was characterized as the type of man to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders, and in the end, this is what brings him to his breaking point.Not to say that this book was perfect I felt at times that the war was just a backdrop to Findley s other themes dysfunctional families, sexuality, man s relationship with nature, love, mental illness Regardless, these are themes that he does well 5 stars A must read For everybody, really. Simply one of the best novels ever, this is a stunning read because it immerses the reader so completely into the experience of Robert Ross that it s hard to extract oneself afterward I found myself thinking and seeing and imagining the way he does for a long while after I had finished the book or it had finished with me for the time being For some reason there are a great many books that are ostensibly about the Great War WWI , including Birdsong and The Ghost Road and Goodbye To All That, and this is certainly another on the list However, Findley isn t just addressing war here he s thinking and feeling deeply about how to live a meaningful life, how to overcome guilt and regret, how to come to terms with failure, why we have to keep on going even when there doesn t seem to be any point in doing so, who we are when there s no one else except usit goes on and on But it s not a didactic novel by any means The last thing it s doing is preaching It is as good as we can do in terms of getting into someone else s head and living his bold, tragic, quietly incredible life for a little while.My vote for the best Canadian novel of all time. This review was written in the late nineties just for myself , and it was buried in amongst my things until today, when I uncovered the journal it was written in I have transcribed it verbatim from all those years ago although square brackets indicate some additional information for the sake of readability It is one of my lost reviews.Fragments That is the greatest strength of Canadian Literature for me the masterful use of fragments Michael Ondaatje s The English Patient is certainly the masterpiece of fragments, but The Wars is its stunning precursor And the compairsons go far beyond the burning deaths of their heroes But I ll not pursue that thread here The Wars stunned me Robet Ross s release of the horses is an amazing expression of humanity in the midst of chaos, yet its power is derived from his murder of Pvt Cassles The Pvt is shot in the face, and we suddenly understand the import of that other scene Robert s rape in the bathhouse where he Robert realizs that humanity and being humane is insufficient Everything is suddenly clear to him It is not that Robert is some insande beast who loves animals than men though if he did, I don t think it would make him anything near insane , it is that animals, coyotes, toads, horses, dogs, birds never hurt him Or in the case of Rowena s rabbits, they symbolize love Robert knows humanity by knowing animals The Wars is the natural world triumphant over our technological holocausts That was a real rambler I wonder if I was drunk when I wrote that I wanted this to expand on my WWI reading experience It did in a rather minor way Many of the books on trench warfare speak of the mud Findley does a better job of making this phenomenon real than anything else I ve read The mud There are no good similes Mud must be a Flemish word Mud was invented here Mudland might have been its name The ground is the colour of steel Over most of the plain there isn t a trace of topsoil only sand and clay The Belgians call them clyttes, these fields, and the further you go towards the sea, the worse the clyttes become In them, the water is reached by the plough at an average depth of eighteen inches When it rains which is almost constantly from early September through to March, except when it snows the water rises at you out of the ground It rises from your footprints and an army marching over a field can cause a flood In 1916, it was said that you waded to the front Men and horses sank from sight They drowned in mud Their graves, it seemed just dug themselves and pulled them down.But I needed than a good description of mud to make this real I had some quibbles with the construction We are given that it is some sort of archivist telling the story There are some sections where the archivist interviews some elderly women who knew the main character, Robert Ross If the vehicle of interviews would have been used throughout, I think it might have been better understood, for I never could figure out where the rest of the story was coming from There was no reference to any record and besides, there were parts that were so personal I doubt they would have ever appeared in any record This unevenness was disconcerting to me as a reader There was nothing truly wrong with this, but it isn t good enough to rave about I haven t looked to see what else Findley has written I am almost overwhelmed by my choices of reading material, that I doubt I ll go looking for another Still, if I tripped over something that seemed to fit where my reading is at that moment, I will be glad to to pick it up. I remember reading a book by Timothy Findley as a teenager in Toronto My parents had a copy of The Last of the Crazy People on their shelves and I randomly picked it up I think the cover appealed to me I don t remember much about it now except that it made me feel uncomfortable Looking it up I see it s considered a pioneer of the Southern Ontario gothic genre Not really YA I guess Fast forward a few decades and a Facebook acquaintance posted this link to required reading for students around the world I recognized a few of the books on the list Mockingbird for the US Lee, not Collins , The Betrothed for Italy, Things Fall Apart for the oddly coupled Ghana Nigeria Flipping ahead to Canada for the easy get I arrive at Findley s The Wars Never read it What kind of Canadian was I, eh I resolved to remedy this post haste only to be confronted by the difficulty of obtaining a copy of this Canlit classic in my adopted home of New York The lions of Manhattan growled with disinterest the venerable NYPL did not have a single copy available for borrowing didn t have any used copies of it in my price range it was published in 1977, should I really be expected to pay than the cost of a Tim Hortons double double Even raiding my parent s bookshelves transplanted from Toronto to Connecticut was fruitless A few Findleys were found including the aforementioned Southern Ontario gothic but not The Wars I m sure there are Findley filled shelves in high schools stretching from Etobicoke to Scarborough but the lone loaner in the Toronto of the South was located deep in the stacks of the Brooklyn Public Library and not speedily enough decanted to the holds shelf of my local branch where my wife kindly picked it up for me Funnily enough she turned out to have a copy on the shelves of her childhood bedroom, still ensconced in non Gothic Southern Ontario but that came out much later The bright lining of this saga of course being that I don t have to worry about anyone else putting a hold on it I can renew to my hearts content So, ya hoser, how was the book Well, despite the glib tone of this review so far, it was an amazing and heartbreaking read I m not sure I would ve appreciated it nearly as much had I read it in high school I recommend it highly It really is very Canadian, the main characters are Canadian of course and Canada s vaunted landscape makes many appearances the streets and valleys of Toronto as well as prairie outposts and the ocean off Nova Scotia Even an immigrant kid whose parents moved to Canada around Expo 67 Habitat can get inspired by it I guess that s what each nation s required reading is supposed to do Although its subject is the horror of war it s told in an impressionistic way that softens the blows a little through a series of vignettes that are almost like short stories Unflinching depictions of chaos alternate with moments of absurdity and humor These fragments come together to form a compelling portrait So wherever you are, if you haven t read this classic, or you read it long ago in high school, it is worth your while to track it down Except if you re in Brooklyn because I ve still got it checked out Some quotes Siegfried said a marvelous thing Sassoon he was taking his troops to the front and they were walking along a road that had been shelled and he saw a soldier lying dead by the road his head had been smashed It was an awful shock The first dead man he d seen, I think and he said that after a while you see them everywhere and you sort of accepted it but the acceptance made him mad and he said this marvelous thing I still maintain that an ordinary human being has a right to be horrified by a mangled body seen an afternoon walk I remember the strangest sight when the raid was over I d been hiding under a bed and when I crawled out and stood up and I looked down the rows of platforms where the tents had been and there, at the edge of the step, sat a pure white cat we d had as a mascot It was cleaning its paws Serenely cleaning its paws.