Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Gifts of War
Set during World War I, Gifts of War: A Novel is the story of a British soldier named Hal, who is involved in the Christmas Truce of 1914. Hal meets a German soldier Wilhelm at that times who entrusts Hal with a photo of his English girlfriend Sam in the hopes that Hal can let her know he is alive. Hal is injured during the war and sets out to find Sam. Upon seeing Sam, Hal is so taken with her that he does not reveal his true purpose and instead sets out to become romantically involved with her. Hal discovers that Sam is the mother of Wilhelm's child which puts her in a precarious position both in the village and in her job.
A large portion of the book deals with Hal's career. Hal's service on the front lines and his extensive knowledge of German give him exciting employment opportunities with the war ministry in military intelligence.
While readable, I found Gifts of War to be an odd book. Set up as a story of passion, the relationship between Hal and Sam come across without passion, instead there is a lot of talking. The truth is, Hal 'fell in love' with Sam at first sight, based on her appearance. Obviously, at the time men were in short supply, Hal could have had any woman he wanted. Even considering the fact that Sam's boyfriend is the enemy, I still found Hal a morally corrupt person to have broken the pact he made with Wilhelm.
I found the portion of the story that dealt with Hal's military work to be the most fascination and engaging aspect of this book. I sensed that the author felt more assured to be writing on this topic than of the love affair. This makes sense, considering the description we have of author Mackenzie Ford:
Mackenzie Ford is the nom de plume of a well-known and respected historian who lives in London.
Gifts of War ends in an unsatisfying way. It made me wonder what was the motivation to write this book in the first place. The author writes about military intelligence in a fascinating way, but it seems he or she threw in the romance to attract a more varied audience. The premise is certainly interesting and includes a moral question but the ending of the novel does not reflect any moral resolution.
Many thanks to Doubleday for this review copy.