Wednesday, March 5, 2014

War Stories

"A Star for Mrs. Blake" by April Smith   Alfred A. Knopf   329  pages   $24.95

This is a true story presented with fictional characters.  After World War 1 the US Army decided to honor Gold Star mothers with a free, luxury trip to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery which honors 14,000 war dead.   They were the mothers who allowed their sons to be buried with their comrades rather than at home. 

The book follows a group of these mothers, the Army soldier serving as their guide and an Army nurse sent along as a precaution.  The mothers come from varied lifestyles and personalities.  One of the male leads is a man whose face was horribly disfigured.  He is not alone by any means, but many of them have been helped by the Studio for Portrait Masks in Paris, 1917.    Sculptors such as America's Anna Coleman Ladd studied the ghastly faces and sculpted masks designed to cover the damage which were then painted in the appropriate skin color.  These men were called "tin noses."

As a study and bit of history of which I'd never heard, it was a fascinating story.

"The Secret of Raven Point" by Jennifer Vanderbes   Scribner   306 pages   $26

This story, set in World War 2, was a sad one.  A small town girl and her older brother are exceptionally close, possibly because their mother died when the girl was three and the boy five.  The widower remarried a woman who was good to them but not overly loving.

The boy lies about being only 16, joins the Army and is shipped out.  The girl continues her schooling and when the family learns that he is listed as Missing, the girl takes an accelerated nursing course and joins the Army, hoping to be sent to the front to look for him. 

Told from her point of view, the story is a sad one.  The struggles to keep wounded men alive on the front line under extremely hard conditions is well told.  Vanderbes could have wallowed in the misery, but she keeps a balanced tone once you get past the improbability of the story line.  It's a good if somewhat depressing read.

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