The Wars – Timothy Findley, copyright 1977.
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Source: Personal Collection – Purchased New
Reason for Reading: Timothy Findley is the greatest author of modern times.
The Wars was one of the books I was primed to read for Dewey’s 24hr. Read-A-Thon on October 9th. As it turned out, it was the only book I read during the read-a-thon.
Regular readers of Pink Sheep Cafe will already be aware that Timothy Findley is my all-time favourite author, so needless to say this will be a very biased review. I have been making a concerted effort recently to get around to reading those of his works I haven’t read yet. The Wars was one of those books and it, like all of Findley’s novels, is a masterpiece (see? I told you it was going to be biased)
During the war (The War to End All Wars) Second Lieutenant Robert Ross was consumed by fire. The young and discerning man, sensitive to animals, did something; something for which the Canadian Military gave him a court-martial and for which history has judged him viciously. But that is not the entire story, as some might have you believe. Robert Ross also did some great things during his service. He quite willingly signed up to fight for his country in the midst of his grief for his sister, cared utterly for the military horses and fought in the Battle of the St. Eloi Craters. During that time, he also witnessed horrible atrocities and observed great injustices all in the name of holding the line. Was Robert Ross driven mad by his experiences in the First World War or was he simply looking out for the best interests of his country and humanity?
At the heart of this story is the transformation of Ross from an innocent, naive kid into a somewhat worldly, enlightened and disillusioned man who, amongst the backdrop of chaos, manages to maintain his sense of humanity and compassion. If you are an animal lover, especially as concerns horses, you may not care for The Wars, as much of Robert Ross’ story involves his caring for the equine among his peers, some of which is less than pleasant. As difficult as some of these parts were to read, it was effective in highlighting the important role these animals played in the war.
Like many of Findley’s novels, The Wars contains a sizeable dose of symbolism, but it does not swamp the story. It helps to create some incredibly realistic portrayals of the fear experienced in the face of looming misfortune and the anxiety of uncertainty that are part-and-parcel with warfare. There are scenes that are both harrowing and disheartening; I don’t want to say that there is nothing graphic, as everyone has their own definitions, but this is war and, needless to say, there are bodies.
“Winds with the velocity of cyclones tore the guns from their emplacements and flung them about like toys. Horses fell with their bones on fire. Men went blind in the heat. Blood ran out of noses, ears and mouths…The storms might last for hours – until the clay was baked and the earth was seared and sealed with fire.” The Wars, page 148.
As time passes and we move farther and farther away from the time of both World Wars, we need more books like this to provide a stark reminder of the sacrifices that were made. Everyone should read The Wars. The fine prose with which Findley captures the emotional perturbation and the sensation of trench warfare is nothing short of genius and will compel you to remember that which must never be forgot.