Everything. Right now it’s teaching me about the WWI and WWII in Europe and Asia. I’m writing an historical novel that takes place over a few generations, based on the true life of members of my family. And while I’ve got loads of primary information from interviews and letters, I need to know specifics. Specifics I can only learn through the written word of the time. I can also only learn certain things from writers who’ve done exactly what I hope to do, fictionalize a real life, or real lives. Who have I turned to?
Through the amazing eyes of Erich Maria Remarque I’m able to be given a window into the horrors of WWI trench warfare. Here’s a beautiful excerpt from this novel, one of the most beautiful passages I’ve ever read:
“We sit opposite one another, Kat and I, two soldiers in shabby coats, cooking a goose in the middle of the night. We don’t talk much, but I believe we have a more complete communion with one another than even lovers have.
We are two men, two minute sparks of life; outside is the night and the circle of death. We sit on the edge of it crouching in danger, the grease drips from our hands, in our hearts we are close to one another, and the hour is like the room: flecked over with the lights and shadows of our feelings cast by a quiet fire. What does he know of me or I of him? Formerly we should not have had a single thought in common––now we sit with a goose between us and feel in unison, are so intimate that we do not even speak.”
What’s amazing to me about this story is that the author lived through such a time, and yet was able to observe and write about it in such an eloquent way that I can truly feel what it was like to find, kill and roast a goose during a barrage of battle.
David Grann’s dedication to his research inspired me. When I get discouraged that I might not be able to find that detail, or I might not be able to sort out the history of my novel, I have David Grann’s dedication to inspire me. This is an historical novel that is written like a wonderful story, and is a style that I learned from and hope to emulate in my novel.
I feel that every book I read is a road map to empathy. Whether it’s learning about the past or the future. Reading is a window into other worlds. And beyond the enjoyment of the stories, they influence the way that I see my world and my role in it.
What do my fellow carnis learn from their reading? Click here to find out!