A Son at the Front

A Son at the Front

Paperback - 1995
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Wharton's antiwar masterpiece, now once again available, probes the devastation of World War I on the home front. Interweaving her own experiences of the Great War with themes of parental and filial love, art and self-sacrifice, national loyalties and class privilege, Wharton tells an intimate and captivating story of war behind the lines.

Publisher: DeKalb : Northern Illinois University Press, 1995.
ISBN: 9780875802039
Branch Call Number: Fic
Characteristics: xvi, 223 p. ; 24 cm.


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Sep 13, 2017

This book was written almost 100 years ago, during a miserable war. Though most of the story takes place in war time, it is the opposite of an adventure story. The point of view is that of the father, an American born in France and currently living in Paris. His ex-wife and her 2nd husband live in Paris, also. The protagonist's son, George, is also an American born in France, and therein lies the conflict. He is 17, and it is the summer of 1914. France and all of Europe are about to go to war. The boy is drafted into the French army. The father is a portrait painter and had been unsuccessful financially until the past few years. The step-father is a wealthy banker. They have some friends or acquaintances in common, and everyone loves George. He's given a desk job, but longs to go to the front where the real war is. It sounds too familiar, but the way Edith Wharton handles it is not.
The book is slow going because most of it happens in the father's head. But it is more than worth the effort of reading it. The war is omnipresent in the lives of the novel's characters, and its effects are powerful. I find myself thinking that it could have been written during the Vietnam war, or Korea, or now.
Edith Wharton was living, and writing, in Paris all during and after the Great War. Just before I read this book, I read her non-fiction, Fighting France, which she wrote in 1915, about what it was like in France during that year. I highly recommend it, especially if you plan to read, A Son at the Front. They go together well, especially for an audience wondering about that war 100 years ago.
I highly recommend this book, and if you read it, that you take your time. Also, don't do what I did, which was to ignore characters I thought were going to be minor and not worth paying attention to. Unusually, this novelist keeps nearly all the characters, even the secondary ones, clear through to the end, so I had to keep going back to the beginning to remind myself who was who. Easier to just pay attention to them the first time through.


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