Examines the effects of WWII on six of the 20th century's most important writers: Thomas Mann, John Steinbeck, Virginia Woolf, Collette, Ernest Hemingway, and Ezra Pound. These writers endured emotional upheaval and ideological disillusionment during the war, yet, for most of them, WWII provided a backdrop for an extraordinarily fertile creative period. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
An uncritical assemblage of information about six famous writers and how they spent the years of fascism's rise and WW II.
These portraits do little more than juxtapose summaries of the subjects' careers with hackneyed chronologies of the war. A wide middle ground of context and interpretation seems missing between the writers' own accountsthe diaries and letters Sonnenberg largely relies uponand the rote unfolding of history. With Hemingway and Ezra Pound, life and war are inherently intertwined, but others test the foundation of Sonnenberg's project. The detachment of Virginia Woolf and the adamant passivity of Colette are curious but don't bear the tedious recounting given here. Apart from his abortive stint as a war correspondent, Steinbeck comes off as irrelevant to such a study. After a detailed account of Pound's increasingly wild behavior through the war years, his "Pisan Cantos" simply appear, deus ex machina, as transcendent art; Sonnenberg has little to say about how they emerged from what came before. Most odd is Sonnenberg's cultish adulation of Thomas Mann as both an artist and an anti-fascist. Her literary analysis is mostly plot summary, decorated by useless adjectives of praise, like "awesome"in Mann's case, piled so absurdly high as to give the whole book an unsettling cast of eccentricity. Propped up here and there by phrases about artists' relationship to their times and their societies, the studies do not spring from, nor do they produce, much coherent thought about such things and are even startlingly contradictory: Colette's "neutrality" is explained sympathetically, but Sonnenberg later declares that "one either opposed fascism with all one's might or one became a swarmy [sic] accomplice."
Trite in style as well as content, this resembles nothing more than a series of overgrown book reports.