I regret to say that this is the first book in a long time that I was unable to finish. I started reading it in August, picking it up here and there but mostly leaving it on my nightstand. Earlier this week, I decided that I was going to dig in and finish it, but after realizing that I was doing more sleeping than reading when this book was in my hand, I figured enough was enough. I made it to page 55 and couldn't bring myself to read on. However, before you choose to pass over this book, please hear me out.
I had a difficult time reading Nella Last's Peace because it seemed as though Last said the same things over and over. Pretty much every diary entry was a mention of her volunteer work that had continued despite the end of WWII and how she wondered what she'd do when all the soldiers had gone home and her services were no longer needed. She talked a lot about her love of reading and her husband, who seemed distant, and I figure that the length of her diary can be attributed to the lack of someone in whom she could confide. But mostly, the entries were about ration points and coupons, her shopping escapades, and what she made for the day's meals. Reading the book became tedious after a few short pages. Last's descriptions of everyday life in post-war England were interesting to a point, but absent any real excitement, I couldn't read the whole 306 pages.
However, I think Last's observations about post-war life have an important place in history, and I'm glad that her diary was preserved. The editors of this volume did a wonderful job explaining their revisions to the diary entries (mostly to make them easier to read) and why certain passages were left out, and I flipped to the end and enjoyed the afterword, which discussed various parts of Last's life and her diaries.
I even found a few interesting quotes from the beginning of the book that are worth mentioning:
I wonder what work there will be for me. It always worried me because in a clever family I seemed 'the odd one out' -- my lameness when a child coming at the time when I needed most for learning, and in those days little notice was taken of girls and their education. I've learned my little gifts of cooking and managing. My love of peace and fun, and seeing folks happy, are real gifts, more useful at times than clever things, like knowing figures and book-keeping. I've learned to keep people together by a laugh, when to take notice of tempers could have meant a split. I've learned the beauty and worth of sustained service with and for others. I'll never go back into the cage of household duties alone, much as my home means and will always mean to me. (page 2)
America has won this war, but in a short time she will have a bigger depression than ever before. She has no soul and is too young a country to understand the problems of the old world. And there's a thing people tend to forget. One of the strongest cornerstones in American society as a whole is bitter resentment, either to their own country or another, which compelled them to seek a fuller life overseas. There is a deep hidden fear in Americans. That is why so many of them bluster and brag. They are not used to things. Prosperity hurts them as much as the poverty and hardship which sent their forefathers wandering, but shows in their love of being top dog. (page 52)
So many people take the view that 'Germany has brought it all on herself.' I said to Mrs Woods, 'Well, there is France, and little French children.' Her big blue eyes rolled and flashed as she said, 'And for what are we to thank France, pray?' I feel we should leave punishment to the clever ones. The ordinary simple folk should hold out a hand to anyone in trouble or want -- we are not God -- and little children feel cold and frightened whatever their country or colour. It's a very remarkable thing that amongst the people who think Germany has brought it on herself France is considered a traitor and should be punished for giving up -- Belgium too in some people's opinion. These are the best church people I know. I shocked Mrs Woods terribly by saying, 'The kindly pitiful Christ you sing about would have been in the Belsen camp and in all the worst bombed places. He wouldn't recognise his churches as holy places.' (page 47)So you see, Nella Last's Peace had some interesting moments. I don't think anyone should decide against reading it simply because it didn't grab my attention. I am glad to put the book on my shelf where I can revisit it down the road. It might just be the mood I'm in at the moment, or maybe I didn't give it enough of a chance. I could pick it up later on and really connect with Last, but it just didn't work for me this time.
I found these reviews in which the book is praised:
Being Mrs C
Have any of you read the book? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of Nella Last's Peace from Meryl Zegarek Public Relations Inc. for review purposes.