Here's what I love about reading: There will always be good books to read out there if you just know where to find them. I've used Pinterest, Goodreads, and even Instagram to find my next read, and recently my efforts led me to a New York Times Bestselling novel published in 1978 that had otherwise completely escaped my notice.
The Passing Bells Trilogy by Philip Rock starts out feeling a little too much like Downton Abbey. It honestly felt as if Julian Fellowes had created Downton based on Abingdon Pryory! And while I enjoyed Downton Abbey (and watched every episode), The Passing Bells could never be mistaken for a soap opera, as Downton often was. While there is romance and the development of beautiful, enduring relationships, that is not what these books are about. They are about real life, real love, and the effects of time and history. As you follow each character's experiences and point of view, they become real to the reader, representing not only a bygone time, but also the lives of the people who experienced our history firsthand. The writing is artful, and the descriptions, especially of wartime, were simply powerful.
The first book takes places during WWI, the second between the two wars, and the third during WWII. The author's portrayal of the Great War and the men who fought and died in the trenches was genuine and enlightening. I realized in those pages how little I knew about the first World War and how much my interest in WWII literature had overshadowed this important part of our history. Since I finished the trilogy, I've been learning more about it. I started by watching American Experience: The Great War on Amazon Prime (which I highly recommend) and reading a classic: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque.
"This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war."
I am embarrassed to say that I'd never read Remarque's classic wartime novel before, and I think it is a mistake that it was not taught at my high school! Told from the perspective of young men who enlisted in the German army, I can absolutely understand why it is known as "the greatest war novel of all time." The author captures the terror or war right alongside the humanity of the soldiers. I've never read literature that so eloquently showed the devastating, needless loss of life or the hypocrisy of war and the stark contrast of trying to live life one day and fight at the front on the next. It's just an incredible, heartbreaking, powerful story, the kind that will change your life for having read it.
"He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence:
All quiet on the Western Front.
He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come."
I've loved Natasha Solomons since I read The House at Tyneford back in 2012 (a book I credit with getting me on the path of readership I am on today), but this book was something else entirely. House of Gold by Natasha Solomons follows a wealthy Jewish family (modeled after the Rothschilds) in the years leading up to and during WWI. I simply cannot imagine the amount of heart that must have gone into writing this book, especially concerning the treatment of Jews throughout Europe during the time period and the specifics of the money markets and political turbulence. It was so well researched that the characters truly came alive and their stories became real.