The Backwash of War: The Classic Account of a First World War Field-Hospital by Ellen N. La Motte
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
AUG 5 - Opens with an introduction by the publisher setting up a background on the author and the circumstances under which the book was written. Is then followed by the author's introduction to the 1934 edition which discusses the books suppression during the war years. Then includes the original 1916 author introduction. This is an interesting first hand account of the WWI French front from a field nurse's point of view. It is a short book and makes fast reading with each chapter being a vignette of a different patient and the medical case he represents. Ms. Motte is very candid in her discussions of the wounded and the treatment making the book probably graphic for its time, though not so much for the modern day reader. While I found the book interesting as a contemporary piece of history from the war, I didn't connect with the author's voice at all. She is quite stand-offish and never really gives a personality or emotion to her storytelling. Oddly enough, we never get to know the author as she never refers to herself when telling her stories. She refers to "the nurse" or "the Directrice", which I came to conclude was her in the third person. A couple of times she does speak of herself as "I" but this is only during two passages in which she goes on a personal discourse of her opinion of war, and yet these are also removed from any emotion as they are written sarcastically. She speaks in a condescending tone of how war, the bureaucracy, etc. must be, is perfect, is right, and yet it fair oozes with sarcasm showing her true meaning and thoughts but missing the mark on connecting with the reader's sentiments. In my opinion, these passages could well have been the reason the book was "banned" in the latter years of the war, due to there anti-propaganda message.
I've read a lot of first-hand accounts of war and perhaps it has conditioned me a bit, but I am more inclined to think that this author, while showing a fair enough account of her experiences, was just not a good enough writer to get any emotion across to the reader. There are much more well-written accounts that are also moving and poignant, neither of which I find "Backwash" to be.
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