A Son at the Front

A Son at the Front

Book - 1995
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Wharton's antiwar masterpiece, now once again available, probes the devastation of World War I on the home front. Interweaving her own experiences of the Great War with themes of parental and filial love, art and self-sacrifice, national loyalties and class privilege, Wharton tells an intimate and captivating story of war behind the lines.

Publisher: DeKalb : Northern Illinois University Press, 1995
ISBN: 9780875805689
087580568X
9780875802039
0875802036
Branch Call Number: F Wha

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m
miaone
Sep 13, 2017

It's hard to believe that this book was written almost 100 years ago, during a miserable war. Though most of the story takes place in war time, it is the opposite of an adventure story. The point of view is that of the father, an American born in France and currently living in Paris. His ex-wife and her 2nd husband live in Paris, also. The protagonist's son, George, is also an American born in France, and therein lies the conflict. He is 17, and it is the summer of 1914. France and all of Europe are about to go to war. The boy is drafted into the French army. The father is a portrait painter and had been unsuccessful financially until the past few years. The step-father is a wealthy banker. They have some friends or acquaintances in common, and everyone loves George. He's given a desk job, but longs to go to the front where the real war is. It sounds too familiar, but the way Edith Wharton handles it is not.
The book is slow going because most of it happens in the father's head. But it is more than worth the effort. The war is omnipresent in the lives of the novel's characters, and its effects are powerful. I find myself thinking that it could have been written during the Vietnam war, or Korea, or now.
I highly recommend this book, and that if you read it, that you take your time. Also, don't do what I did, which was to ignore characters I thought were going to be minor and not worth paying attention to. Unusually, this novelist keeps nearly all the characters, even the secondary ones, clear through to the end, so I had to keep going back to near the beginning to remind myself who was who. Easier to just pay attention to them the first time through.

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