Thursday, February 18, 2010

Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear

World War II has long held fascination for Western audiences. Every year countless books and movies appear analyzing obscure facts about World War II history. Hitler and the Holocaust have been done and redone. An intriguing topic, undeniably. However, World War I has long gotten short shrift. If overarching impact on the Western world is the question, I would be hard pressed to state that one war had a greater impact that the other.

In the past five years I have noticed a growing shift. More and more people are writing, watching, and talking about World War I. Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series is an incredible addition to the field of World War I books. While the stories take place in the 1920/30s, each story further develops the impact of the War on the people of Britain. I am continually amazed at how well Winspear examines and understands the mores, expectations, and disappointments of post-War Britons. With each one of her books I feel as though my academic understanding of twentieth-century Europe is deepened by her work.

In Among the Mad, the most recent Maisie Dobbs novel, Winspear tackles psychological repercussions of war and depression in general head-on. I rave about all of her books but this one blew me away. Winspear is remarkably sympathetic to her characters who have all suffered from the War in some way. She brings back topics from earlier books to help demonstrate how unexpected events can return and cause psychological distress years later. The "criminal" in the story suffers from PTSD - although post-traumatic stress was not coined and recognized until generations later - and mental trauma due to World War I nerve gas exposure. Rather than criminalize the criminal, Winspear creates an empathetic character who has found himself in an unforgivable situation. Winspear's outcome brought up another excellent aspect of her books.

While writing about a period seventy years in the past, Winspear addresses very cogent contemporary debates. What role do scientists play in War? Who is responsible for military technology and how should responsibility for destruction at the hands of the war machine be handled? Does society have a responsibility to acknowledge the traumas of soldiers and how can those issues be reconciled? I walked away from Among the Mad pondering any number of current military/political situations. I can't say that is true about many historical or mystery books.

I think there is something for everyone to enjoy in Winspear's novels. She pens a great mystery. She is amazingly historically accurate. She addresses deep questions worth revisiting. A definite two thumbs up.

If you like World War I read:
  • Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear - you should really read this series in order to appreciate and understand the characters
and see:

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