Each age comes with a set of literary protagonists. During childhood there’s Maya the Bee and Huckleberry Finn, teenage years bring in more complex characters like Harry Potter and Jo March, youth follows with a flood of self-discovery through Jay Gatsby, Karen Blixen, Yury Zhivago – and, at times, Harry Potter again. We read seeking literary adventure, looking for refuge from the struggle of reality, but above all we read in search of familiarity. Stories of people who faced similar hardships, encountered the same dilemmas, and agonised over uncertainties we can relate to serve as our pacifiers and compasses. According to research, our brain is more comfortable dealing with stress that can be linked to a reference point of someone else’s experience. The greatest danger is feeling alone and unprecedented: as much as we might think that our struggles are unique, truth is that history repeats itself, in one way or the other. While this discovery might carry a certain blow for generations of self-centered millennials and narcissistic Gen-Z, it is a universal medicine for all ages. What we can relate to we can understand better, grieve deeper and let go of more sincerely.
Today some of us feel like we’re living in a computer game with increasingly ridiculous plot twists, others are simply paralysed by the toxic concoction of the last decade that brought with it a global pandemic, a grim environmental prognosis, and wars. While you’re curled up on a sofa between anti-stress breathwork, therapy sessions and binge-watching TV, take a moment to remember the power of literature and its revelations. Pick up that book you bought months ago and never got around to, remember some high school classics, re-read your favourite novel.
We have put together a list of top-5 book about peace, and – inevitably – war, that will get you thinking and, hopefully, bring a glimmer of hope. After all, peace is the greatest artwork that always starts within us, and often with the right words.
“A Moment of War” by Laurie Lee
Gloucestershire-born Laurie Lee is one of the most celebrated twentieth-century English writers, even if nobody knows whether his battle scenes are more observation or fiction. “A Moment of War” is set in year 1937, when the author crosses Pyrenes determined to fight in the Spanish Civil War. Like any honest book about war, it reports on the endless hanging about, false alarms, cancelled orders, rotten food, and homesickness. Perhaps not as glamorous and heroic as expected, this account evokes an important theme: not so much the war’s sacrifices but its sheer bloody waster.
I shared a compartment with a half-dozen muffled-up soldiers who had only arrived the day before, including an ill-favoured young Catalan whose pox-pitted cheeks sprouted stubble like a grave in May.
“Tales of Army Life” by Leo Tolstoy
Based on incidents of Tolstoy’s military career fighting against the Chechens (whom he called Tatars) and in the Crimean War, “Tales of Army Life” is a lesser known and less epic novel than “War and Peace”, but perhaps it shouldn’t be. Tolstoy’s position is of categorical non-violence, and he comes closer to that earlier on than is often suggested.
The very last paragraph of the very first story in the book was suppressed by the Russian censor precisely because he asked the question, what is the reality of war? Why do soldiers, in what way and under what influence, kill one another? That was deemed unpatriotic, and I think just disturbed the censor, who probably couldn’t understand what Tolstoy was trying to say and struck it out.
The hero of my tale, whom I love with all the strength of my soul, whom I have tried to set forth in all his beauty, and who has always been, is, and always will be most beautiful, is—the truth.
“A Farewell to Arms” by Ernest Hemingway
A classic, a moving and beautiful book, “A Farewell to Arms” is a story of an American ambulance driver on the Italian front and his passion for a beautiful English nurse. Set against the looming horrors of the battlefield during the German attack on Caporetto, it is about the struggle of choice between loyalty and desertion – which no one should ever be destined for.
The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.
“The Art of Peace” by Morihei Ueshiba
The real way of the warrior is based on compassion, wisdom, fearlessness, and love of nature. So taught the great Morihei Ueshiba (1883–1969), founder of the Japanese martial art of Aikido. Although the book won’t teach you Aikido itself, it will outline its founding principles that could be applied to all the challenges we face in life—in personal and business relationships, as well as in our interactions with society.
To injure an opponent is to injure yourself. To control aggression without inflicting injury is the Art of Peace.
“The world of yesterday” by Stefan Zweig A classic of the memoir genre, “The world of yesterday” describes Vienna of the late Austro-Hungarian Empire, the world between the two world wars and the Hitler years. The reflections on the author’s friendships with Verhaeren and Romain Rolland read like a collection of exquisite anecdotes of the sum total of cultural life in the 20th century. Despite the tragedy of political Stefan Zweig manages to tell the story of European unity, art, and culture, and he does so with the mastery of a true poet.
Only the person who has experienced light and darkness, war and peace, rise and fall, only that person has truly experienced life.