Thursday, 17 April 2014

Writing First World War for children, part 2

Another reflection I made at the First World War symposium was that my grandchildren presumably don't know anything about it.

Of course, I didn't know much about it when I was a child, once again, because it was totally eclipsed by the 1917 revolution and the subsequent Communist coup that eventually harvested more lives than the Great War on both sides – but our history books didn't tell us about it. Our history books told us that the war was instigated by world imperialism, and it was a blessing for Russia that it finished off the Russian empire and established paradise on earth.

I don't know what my Swedish grandchildren's history books tell them about the Great War. Probably a short paragraph with a blurry black-and-white picture explaining that somewhere, far away, there was a war that Sweden did not participate in. Sweden had its own problems then. It was an impoverished country, and a third of its population had emigrated. That story takes many pages in the history books. I guess it's inevitable, because history is always written from a particular perspective, and what is major for one history writer is a footnote for another. Yet being a displaced hedgehog, I cannot help asking myself: can I do something to make my grandchildren aware of the Great War that did not affect their forefathers? And do I want to? Why would they care? And then I think about red poppies, and the war monuments by the Cambridge railway station and in our little village, and lists of perished soldiers in King's Chapel, and yes, I want my grandchildren to know about it, just as I want British children to know about it. And history books won't help. You need the power of fiction to get the message across. Or rather, get the feeling across.

And this is why I have sent copies of War Horse to my grandchildren and encouraged their parents to take them to see the film. And I will read the books that I learned about at the symposium and see whether I want my grandchildren to read them.

Most of all, I wish somebody would write a book about a Swedish child who by serendipity gets caught in the Great War. 

No comments: