Part travelogue, part war memoir, this insubstantial, disjointed reminiscence succeeds as neither.
In 1953, buoyed by a book advance, Mowat (Born Naked, 1994, etc.) and his wife, Frances, returned to Europe to revisit some of the battlefields where he and his fellow Canadians had fought during WW II. Clearly, he was a witness to enormous suffering and carnage, so much so that eight years later the wounds were still painfully fresh. He describes recoiling in disgust from the few German tourists he encountered and keeping away from sites where the bad memories would be too overwhelming. Much of the book, in fact, is an anti-memoirish ellipsis, even avoidance, of the past. While one doesn't begrudge Mowat this reluctance, it does give a strained, unfulfilling quality to the writing. In fact, there seems to be so much that he doesn't really want to remember, one wonders why he wrote this book at all. His war is much better described in his letters home, collected in My Father's Son (1992). As for Mowat the traveler, large parts of this book are all too reminiscent of a neighbor's endless back-from-vacation slide show: a large bolus of barely digested detail. Mowat does shine, however, in his depiction of the natural world. His descriptions of the resiliency of natureand even manare particularly moving, as again and again he finds new life reappearing on even the most devastated battlefields. Ducks return to a firing range, ponds form from bomb craters, saplings sprout in shell-torn mud. Here, in the constancy and strength of nature, Mowat finds a grain of hope against human folly.
An unsatisfying ramble, salvaged by a few striking passages.