Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Marge Piercy's Gone To Soldiers: my favourite book of all time

This happens once a year, at least once, sometimes multiple times: all of a sudden I will stop what I am doing and say "it's time to read Gone To Soldiers again." Then I pick it up and fall back into the words that have kept me going for so many years now. I will never ever tire of this book. It happened to me this morning, while I was making my morning tea, wondering through the haze of my mind what on earth I was going to write about today, trying to avoid the inevitable subjects of "2011 was a shitty/great/annoying/interesting year", when I just stopped in my tracks, grabbed my most recent copy of the book and read the first page. Nothing better than starting off your new year with firstly your first bender in 3 years, and then back to reality with your favourite book. The former not to be revisited for a while, the latter a lot more healthy.

The first time I read Marge Piercy's Gone To Soldiers was in 1991 or 1992. One of my mum's friends lent it to her, and as with any book that ever came into our household, I read it. Actually I devoured it. I've always loved historical fiction, especially dealing with WW2, and I love strong women characters that I can relate to. I also love rich, well-constructed prose, words that let you imagine the scene in your own head, help you to picture faces and expressions and leave them imprinted in your mind for a long time after you have read the last page of the book. This is how Marge Piercy writes. Gone To Soldiers will make you laugh, cry, want to hit things and finally feel like you can go out and accomplish anything that you want to, just because you can.

The novel is the story of ten different characters (men and women), interweaving, across the Atlantic and the Pacific, over the space of 5 years of war. Every character is human, and you will probably relate more to one over another, depending on how old you are when you read the book. My favourite will always be Jacqueline, feisty French Jewish girl who has to grow up and deal with the undealable. I sometimes see some of myself in her, more than in any of the other characters. Basically, Jacqueline makes me realise how much potential we have to create something from our lives, while remaining true to our hearts and beliefs. I know it sounds a little silly said like that, but you really need to read her story to understand what I mean.
There is also Bernice who breaks away from her father and runs away to fly aeroplanes; Louise who goes from writing women's stories to writing from the front lines in France via London; Daniel who deciphers code for a living; Jeff, the artist with the survival instinct, and probably the male character who I am the most attracted to; Abra who learns to live with nothing after having everything and all of the others who will touch your lives in a way that you wouldn't expect. An epic story that you can't put down. Life changing? Maybe. Just read it, the least it can do is help you learn a little more about what the regular person went through in the 40's.

I've read this book at least once a year since 1991. I've been through so many copies of it, I've given copies to my friends and it is without a doubt my favourite book of all time. Every time I read it I discover something new and somehow I find comfort in the stories, in a way I find a patch of non-moving ground that I can stand on for a moment to recollect myself.

More information on the book on Marge Piercy's website: Gone To Soldiers
More information on Marge Piercy: Biography

All of Marge Piercy's novels are excellent - once you have read this one try the others (especially Braided Lives).

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