what i'm reading: siegfried sassoon

Several years ago, I read and fell in love with Pat Barker's "Regeneration Trilogy": Regeneration, The Eye in The Door, and The Ghost Road. Set in England during The Great War (WWI), the three books explore the horrors of war, both immediate and lasting, physical and psychological. The books also reveal a piece of queer history, as gay people were persecuted in WWI England, homosexuality linked to the supposedly baby-eating, nun-raping Huns.

I had finished all three novels before learning that the first book was based on memoirs, or at least slightly fictionalized memoirs. Barker's jumping off point for Regeneration was the novel-memoirs of Siegfried Sassoon, best known for his World War I poetry. I had never heard of Sassoon, but I was very interested in learning more.

So as part of a birthday present, in his typically and amazingly thoughtful way, Allan presented me with a boxed, hardcover edition of the Sassoon trilogy, an edition reprinted in 1971. (They were originally published in 1928.) Using a fictional stand-in named George Sherston, Sassoon wrote Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer and Sherston's Progress.

The box has been sitting on the shelf for several years, but this morning I started reading the first one. It's wonderful. Sassoon evokes a place and time soon to be completely shattered, its people utterly insensible to the coming apocalypse. He also evokes childhood - its loneliness, its terrors, its joys and consolations - with beautiful precision. I'm looking forward to the journey.

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