Shelf Control is a feature I picked up from Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies and is all about celebrating the books already on your TBR. Each Wednesday, one picks a book from one’s TBR writes a post about it, usually what the book is all about, when and where you got it, what made you want to read it, and such.
This week I’ve picked a nonfiction title, one themed around the Second World War–Farthest Field by Raghu Karnad.
What it is all about: This is a memoir that the author has written about the experiences in the Second World War of his grandfather and two granduncles (Bobby, Ganny, and Manek). The author has been seeing photos of the three in his grandmother’s house–one a pilot with India’s airforce, one a doctor, and the third, who went in the battle from Burma to Iraq. This is the story of a family caught in a changing world, swept up by its violence, a story of loyalties tested, innocence eroded, and of romances devastated. This is a story of the author’s family but also of a par of history that isn’t focused on too much, India and Indian soldiers in the Second World War. It takes us to the home life they left behind, and the battlefields that the war took them to–India, Burma, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt among them.
My edition: Fourth Estate, paper back, 2017.
Where and When I got it: I’ve had this on my shelves for a few months now, though I don’t remember the exact time. And I didn’t actually buy the book myself. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of it. Some one actually gave this to my father as a present, and I picked it up from him to read since it sounded so interesting.
Why I want to read it: It’s history! This is a genre I enjoy reading of course, and more than that this is about a facet of history I don’t really know much about, and which I definitely am looking forward to reading. This is as I gather from a few reviews I looked at, as well as from a glance at the prologue, not one that can be clearly classified as non-fiction as the author has fictionalised some aspects–the thoughts, feelings of characters etc. I don’t think I’d really mind this–I mean why pigeon-hole everything? (Even Dava Sobel’s A More Perfect Heaven, which was essentially non-fiction, had a segment in the middle imagining a scene where Copernicus is convinced to have his work published, and while more clearly compartmentalised, I quite enjoyed reading that but as well). So looking forward to reading this one soon!
Do you like reading historical fiction/non-fiction set in the Wars? What are some of the books on the theme that have impacted you the most? I can’t really use the word enjoy for this period in history (though I can think of one book that I did–a Nancy Mitford) as there is so much pain, so much that disturbs you, and yet this is one facet of history that you can’t afford to ignore.
7 thoughts on “Shelf Control #4”
Awesome post 😍
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I wish my parents, who were born and brought up in India, had told me more about their experience there before Partition and Independence (they were married in the UK before a ten year spell in Hong Kong).
Unfortunately when I was young I had little interest or comprehension of what they went through; my father understandably wouldn’t discuss his distressing wartime experiences on merchant navy convoys in the South China Seas) then died when I was in my early 20s; finally, my mother could never give me a coherent account when I did eventually show interest, rambling from incomplete anecdote to anecdote because that’s the way she ordered her memories — and now it’s too late as she’s gone, as have all of her contemporaries once dispersed around the world.
But this account you describe reminds me I have a couple of memoirs from my mother’s cousin that I really ought to look at properly.
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Sorry to hear about your dad.
Unfortunately sometimes before we realise the value of some stories/ parts of our past though they are indirectly so, it is too late. I was lucky enough to be able to read memoirs of one great uncle which were mainly focused on his childhood and his mother and while it didn’t go into so much detail, I could see some of what my great grandmother went through during the independence struggle, and only now I realise how many more stories of these times, of their experiences one could have got from them.
Besides these I even think sometimes of the story-telling sessions with my grandma-she used to tell me stories before bedtime when I was little (for a while when she lived with us) and how different those were from things I’ve read- and wish I had written them somewhere-in a diary even because while I do remember them, they’re not as clear in my mind as they were back then.
Partly why I’m looking forward t reading this is the author was able to trace some part of his family history–in some detail it seems, and of a part of history that is often not gone into so much since histories of that period understandably focus on the independence struggle. But those other stories were important too and hard though they may be to read, one needs to know them
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My father died many years ago at the age of only 51, just months after the birth of his first grandchild, our daughter; if he was still alive he would have been 97 this year (his mother lived past 100) but I’m afraid chain smoking, excess weight and lack of exercise didn’t help. He was quite a taciturn man, given to fits of temper — I suspect that, like me, he was on the autism spectrum and was born just too early to understand what the condition often entails.
I think the stories your grandmother told you — even if you remember them imperfectly — are worth committing to paper. I’m sure, as a writer, you would express them with authenticity as part of a continuing oral tradition in which little details may change but the narrative shines through.
One keeps lamenting about how much better life was in the past (and I feel it was in many ways–simpler and calmer) but ‘modern’ life has those advantages at least–understanding/making sense of things one couldn’t have in the past because of all the knowledge that has been added to the ‘pool’ so to speak– and of course the internet (besides other things).
I did start thinking about putting those stories down on paper after they came up in our discussion–but I’ve actually told my mother to start on these because her memory is far better than mine for these little details and she seems to remember a few more stories as well–many were originally her grandmother’s. So I do hope between the two of us we will be able to come up with something.
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