The Missing of the Somme

Vintage: Random. Jul. 2011. 176p. ISBN 9780307742971. pap. $14.95.
Noted for his sharp criticism (Out of Sheer Rage was a National Book Critics Circle finalist) and inventive fiction (e.g., Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi), the London-based Dyer wrote this reflection on World War I in 1994, but it has never been published here. Not your standard history, it's "about mourning and memory, about how the Great War has been represented," said the Guardian—and it will appeal to readers interested in looking beyond the facts to the meaning and consequences of war in general.
This is not a military history of World War I. At far fewer pages, it accomplishes something altogether different. In this 1994 book only now being published stateside, Dyer () looks at the ways in which those who endured the Great War, whether civilians, soldiers, or officers, went on to reckon with its brutal impact. He explores (literally through travels and figuratively) "not simply the way the war generates memory, but the way memory has determined—and continues to determine—the meaning of the war." He points out how we anticipated the war's call to memory, e.g., Laurence Binyon's September 1914 "We will remember them," and how survivors' remembrances became the Remembrances, officially sanctioned, of succeeding generations. From London's Imperial War Museum to soldier's statues in so many English towns, to samplings of the poetry the war produced (more powerful than statues), Dyer susses out the processes by which we sought to understand a catastrophe. Ultimately, he stands in meditation at the massive memorial at Thiepval, in France, with its lettering to "The Missing of the Somme": over 73,000 inscribed names of those never found for burial. Although we may not find the peace that Dyer finds there, we certainly find enlightenment. Paul Fussell's remains a crucial read, but this should stand beside it. Highly recommended.—Margaret Heilbrun,
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