Reverse detail from Kakelbont MS 1, a fifteenth-century French Psalter. This image is in the public domain. Daniel Paul O'Donnell

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Talkin' 'bout my g- g- greatest generation? The Long November (Nablo, 1946)

Posted: Dec 10, 2017 15:12;
Last Modified: Dec 10, 2017 15:12

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The Long November is a novel about World War II by Canadian author James Benson Nablo.

The basic plot is that Joey Mack, a not-quite-so-young canadian soldier is reflecting on his life while lying wounded in Italy. His life runs from rum-running in the 1920s through mining, the depression, and then the war. The leitmotif in all his thought is Steffi, the young girl from a rich family of whose affection he has spent his life trying to deserve.

The novel really isn’t that well written. Or rather it is somewhat pretentiously written as a long first person interior monologue. But it is remarkable as a corrective on post-war “Greatest Generation” approaches to the WWII generation. The narrator is angry at the generation before his, whom he blames for the depression and the war. He is also extremely cynical about the motivations and quality of the leadership of the armed forces. Although Nablo did not apparently fight in the war, it also has very striking, gruesome descriptions of battle (or mostly deaths in and after battle) and an interesting passage in which Canadian soldiers (or rather a Pole fighting with the Canadians) kill German POWs and is then himself killed by his own commanding officer:

He moved twice in the brush. He lifted his head slowly and looked across at me, but he couldn’t see me. Then he must have figured he was in the clear because the damned fool stood up. I lifted my rifle a little and brought him into the “v” of the sight. He was moving now across the open stretch, as if he didn’t care, and as I took up the first trigger pressure, I thought of Togger Benton. The next pressure brought the Lee-Enfield back hard against my shoulder and the Kraut slid down out of the “v” of the sight, clutching his belly. I felt a nice, warm glow wave over me. They can die, too, I thought, the Master Race can die. And for a long time I enjoyed watching them do it. (176)

You needn’t have worried, Granny Gibson, and you should have saved the money you spent on sending Steffie away. She needed it far more later. But you knew best, didn’t you Granny? Just as countless older generations have imposed their corny opinions on countless younger generations, so did you. Just as the mistakes of your generation were inherited by mine; just as a battered world was passed along; just as the whole mess has gone since the beginning of time. (34-35)

The main thing about this book is that it shows the “greatest generation” as something other than dutiful, non-complaining people. They have somebody they blame for the world they find themselves in.

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