Friday, February 28, 2014

Few Eggs and No Oranges by Vere Hodgson


Persephone book #9 is Few Eggs and No Oranges: the Wartime Diaries of Vere Hodgson, 1940-1945.  It's probably the longest Persephone book own, nearly 600 pages, and the actual time I spent reading this book was by far longer than any other Persephone, which I can normally get through in a few days, sometimes even as little as one day (and there are those that I've literally finished in one sitting). This book took me more than six weeks, because I had to read it in bits and pieces -- I just couldn't sit and read long sections at once.   

Vere Hodgson (1901-1979) was born in Birmingham and was working at a charity in Notting Hill Gate during WWII.  Few Eggs was first published in 1976, an abridged version of Ms. Hodgson's diaries from the war years, which she sent to relatives in Rhodesia during the war.  Since I'm really interested in the War at Home, I thought this would be just up my alley.  Well, it was and it wasn't -- I was really not prepared for how difficult a read this book would be.  It's one thing to read fiction, but true stories are always more painful to read.  The first year or so of the book covers the London Blitz, and much of this portion of the diary is entry after entry of days when Vere literally did not know if she would live to see another day -- bombs dropping, sirens blaring every night, mad rushes to the bomb shelter -- seriously, I don't know how millions of people lived through it every day and didn't lose their minds.  

Vere Hodgson
And then the survivors had to deal with the destruction, the short rations, and constant fear -- plus the sleeplessness would have sent me around the bend.  People must have developed nerves of steel.  However, the book also includes a lot of lighter moments.  By far, my favorite parts were about the extraordinary kindness that the British people showed to one another -- over and over there are instances of people sharing what little they had with strangers, especially soldiers. 

As I read the book, I only wished I had better knowledge of WWII history -- I know the basic outlines, but I feel like I need to go back and reread all the war history that I've forgotten.  Anyway, this is quite an interesting look at the life of someone who lived through the war.  

The endpapers from the Persphone edition of Few Eggs and No Oranges.
It's from a vintage Jacqmar scarf called "London Wall."
I couldn't use this as my Classic About War selection for the Back to the Classics Challenge, since it wasn't actually published until 1976, but still have a lot of books about WWII on my TBR lists -- I have another book in the Cazalet series, Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky, which I really want to read, plus I might read The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck.  Bloggers, which are your favorite books about WWII? 

8 comments:

  1. I was holding my breath when I read your review because I just plunked down roughly $30.00 for this Persephone book. I've been reading reviews of it for several years but had never seen it in used book stores. I have to wait a bit before I read it, though, because I just finished A Nurse at the Front: The First World War Diaries of Sister Edith Appleton. That would be a little too much war for me. I, too, am amazed at the strength and courage of people in war time. Frankly, I don't think I'd make it.

    I was feeling proud that I could now see the lamp on the table behind the stacks of books that live there. But with the addition of Few Eggs and the letters of Nancy Mitford, both about 3" high, I think I'm sunk!

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    1. I know what you mean, I can't read too many books about the war too closely together. I've just started an audiobook of Suite Francaise which is about Parisians fleeing the German invasion and it's kind of hard to listen to, probably because I just finished Few Eggs. I also have The Sisters which is the biography of the Mitfords which I want to read this year -- might have to wait a bit and space it out with something completely different first.

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  2. Not a blogger, but I'll answer anyway. Few Eggs is one of my favorites - it seems such an honest portrayal of what "unimportant people" (as the author refers to herself) went through in WWII Britain. The Cazalet series is wonderful. Other favorites: The Night Watch by Sarah Waters, The Siege by Helen Dunmore, Rumors of Peace by Ella Leffland, Berlin Diaries by Marie Vassiltchikov, To War with Whitaker by Hermione Ranfurly, Blackout & All Clear by Connie Willis (science-fiction/alternate history)

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    1. I've heard really good things about the Connie Willis books -- it would be so interesting (and terrifying) to imagine what would happen if the Allies had lost the war. I tried The Night Watch a few months ago but couldn't get into it, but it was the audio, maybe I'd do better with the print version. I hadn't heard of some of the others so I'll look for them. Thanks for your suggestions!

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  3. I got this from the library, but I didn't get too far with it, I think because I tried to read it straight through. I do want to try again, and when I do I'll take your approach (if they'll let me keep it that long!)

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    1. First, it's so awesome that your library has this -- is it an original edition or the Persephone reprint? It's pretty hard to find, I couldn't even get it via ILL. It might take awhile so hopefully your library will let you renew it at least once!

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  4. I second The Night Watch, but while I have enjoyed all of Sarah Waters books and I don’t think that one is as accessible as some of her other novels. I also enjoyed The Berlin Diaries. I didn’t love Blackout and so I haven’t moved on to All Clear, but I agree that the descriptions of the Blitz in the book were well done in the first book. Last year I read Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life and I have to say that that her depictions of London during the bombing were fantastic. Heartbreakingly so. If any of these are too modern for you, you could also try Graham Green’s The Ministry of Fear, which I think was actually written during the war, so how’s that for verisimilitude?

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  5. Well, from a more American perspective, I nominate The Winds of War!

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