A century ago, the art of letter writing was dominant. Correspondence formed the most effective way to communicate, and people wrote letters with the frequency that people write emails today – but perhaps with more thought, more feeling and more emotion than the technological form into which letter writing has evolved. Letters From a Lost Generation provides a heart-wrenching example of how letters can bring people to life again. As a reader, you feel like you are usurping on some of the most touching, private moments of the writers’ lives. It makes you feel incredibly privileged, but it also ensures that you experience all of the emotions which passed between the correspondents.
This book is a collection of letters between Vera Brittain, a VAD during the First World War, and her fiance, Roland Leighton, her brother Edward Brittain, and two of their friends, Victor Richardson and Geoffrey Thurlow. Unlike any of the fictionalised accounts of the Great War, this book was all the more poignant because the words were written whilst the war was raging. Tragically, one by one, all four of the young men are killed. The style of the book means that as a reader, you are acutely aware of when their voices fall silent. It is as if you are seeing it all through Vera’s eyes, and feeling her anguish.
The infant relationship between Vera and Roland is the one I found most tragic. The two were so young and had barely had the chance to get to know one another. I remember feeling a similar feeling of loss when I read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. It was a sense of anger at the sheer waste. A waste of years, a waste of love and a waste of the future. The first half of this book is dominated by the correspondence between the two, and when Roland is killed, one day before he was due to return home on leave, I had to put the book down in tears.
The book’s themes are pride, loss, maturing and change. All of the key players start out young, idealistic and eager. But as their letters show, this deserts them little by little as the reality of war starts to show. And yet, as public school graduates, officer classes, none fully allow despair to slow them. All of them bravely face their own deaths in their individual ways. Vera acts as their rock and confident, staying with them until their short lives are terminated.
I would be hard pressed to find a more personal account of World War I.
Date Finished: 30 April 2008
Challenges: 5/8 of category 7: Books with WWI as a theme for the 888 Challenge