Friday, October 2, 2009

Nella Last's Peace by Patrica and Robert Malcolmson (editors)

Back in August, I reviewed Our Longest Days by Sandra Koa Wing (editor), a collection of WWII diaries written by ordinary citizens of England for Mass Observation Archive.  One of these diarists, and by far the most prolific, was Nella Last of Barrow-in-Furness.  Last (1889-1968) wrote diary entries for Mass Observation from 1939 to 1966, and it is one of the longest diaries ever written in the English language.  Nella Last's Peace:  The Post-War Diaries of Housewife, 49, edited by Patricia and Robert Malcolmson, is a collection of Last's entries from August 1945 to December 1948.

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
LyzzyBee's Books

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.


Jeanette said...

I have Nella Last's War on my shelf and have been eager to read it. Nella Last's Peace is on my wishlist for after I finish Nella's Last War. They sound like books I would really like to read. Hope I enjoy them. I also have Our Longest Days on my wishlist to buy one of these days.

Serena said...

This doesn't sound like its for me. I have a hard time with diary entries that seem to repeat themselves or be going no where.

bermudaonion said...

Sorry this didn't work for you. I actually think my mother might enjoy something like this, though.

Ladytink_534 said...

I'm impressed that you not only managed to stick with it for so long but also find some interesting quotes. This would probably bore me to tears :(

Belle said...

The quotes do sound interesting - this sounds like it would be excellent as an excerpt or essay-length piece in a collection (which it sounds like it was, in Our Longest Days). And it's definitely historically significant - great review.

gautami tripathy said...

I like the cover..

Marie Cloutier said...

Yeah, sometimes things just don't strike you at the right time. I've had experiences like that where I've put something down for a while, then picked it up again later and loved it. I'm not sure this one would be my cup of tea either but I appreciate your thoughts. :-)

Nikki said...

Anna, thanks for dropping by my blog! Sure! I don't mind if you link to my book review, and actually, I think I would like the exposure!

Jew Wishes said...

Thanks for visiting my Jew Wishes website, and leaving a comment on my review.

This is an excellent review of a book you had a difficult time with.

Yes, you may link my review of Bending Toward the Sun to War Through the Generations.

Thank you.

Mercy's Maid said...

Hi Anna! Thanks for commenting on my blog. You asked if you could link my blog to another blog and yes, that's totally fine. Have a good day!

Anna said...

~Jeannette: I do hope you get to read them soon. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

~Serena: Well, I can't say they wouldn't ever have gone somewhere. It just wasn't moving along fast enough for me.

~bermudaonion: Let me know if your mom gets a chance to read it at some point.

~Ladytink: I really wanted to give it a fair shot. It's really not for everyone.

~Belle: I kept thinking as I was reading, "And to think, this is not the complete diary!!"

~gautami: Me, too.

~Marie: Thanks. I might give it a try again at some point. We'll see.

~Nikki, Jew Wishes, and Mercy's Maid: Thanks!

Tara said...

I'm sorry to hear this wasn't a good read for you. I have Nella's Last War on my shelf and hope I find it easier going. I'd also like to read Our Longest Days - thanks for reminding me of it.

Anna said...

~Tara: Maybe I should get a copy of Nella Last's War and read that first. I enjoyed her diary excerpts that were in Our Longest Days. Maybe starting with the second book doesn't give you the feeling that you know her. Who knows? I look forward to your thoughts on the book when you get to it.