Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Book review - Days of Our Years.

I have actually read several books since the last review I posted. My Grandfather passed away in June and so I have inherited quite a few books and look to receive more. My Grandfather was a voracious reader who kept almost everything he read. His literary interests were varied and his library vast. I will try and catch up with my recent reading as time permits.

The latest book from the collection that I read was Days of Our Years by Pierre Van Paasen. When I started reading I had no idea who Mr. Van Paasen was, the book was published in 1939 though and promised to be an interesting read about the period between the World Wars. A note written on the title page in my Grandfather's handwriting further piqued my curiosity. In it he stated that the book was of the type that "nearly justifies the burning of books." I do not share my Grandfather's political or religious views so the note was more of an invitation than warning.

In the book Mr. Van Paasen writes of his childhood in Holland, his family's immigration to Canada, and his service in the Canadian army in World War One. That is just the background. He then proceeds to lay out various experiences he had while working as a newspaper reporter.

While I found his sketches of rural French life, his account of being detained at Dachau (yes, the concentration camp), and his travels in French Morocco to be of interest, they paled against his telling of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, the conflict in the British mandate of Palestine, and his interviews with Benito Mussolini.

In Ethiopia Mr. Van Paasen was befriended by Emperor Haile Selassie. This allowed him to see and recount the Ethiopian side of the invasion. The accounts of Selassie's views and hopes concerning international intervention is of great interest. In one particularly vivid account Mr. Van Passen recalls walking in on the Ethiopian Minister of War as he was holding his youngest son who had just died after being gassed by the Italian troops.

Mussolini comes across as just the type of egotistic buffoon who would jump at the chance of invading a stone age country and then try to claim glory from the endeavor. Mr. Van Passen had a couple of interviews with The Duce and came away with a good understanding of him. He missed though in predicting that Benito would not stay tied to Hitler and would ally himself with Britian and France in any coming war.

In Palestine Mr. Van Paasen spoke with Jewish leaders, the Mufti of Jerusalem, the British governor, and common folks of all stripes. What he reveals about the Arab leadership's duplicity and the British complacency is almost shocking.

All in all I would give Days of Our Years one thumb up. While the accounts of travels and events are very interesting and Mr. Van Paasen is a skilled observer and story teller, he is hampered in two respects.

First, as an avowed Socialist he gives the Soviet Union, and communism in general, a free pass on many things. In one instance he states that the USSR is moving forward and that the end will justify the "discomfort" experienced in the process.

The second area that I found Mr. Van Paasen lacking in was his understanding of human nature. Strange since he was a reporter of human events. Mr. Van Paasen's view that humans are naturally good at their core blinds him to the cause of the events he is recording. He tends to try and blame circumstances and conditions for human atrocities. While circumstances and conditions can affect human viewpoints and strategies every man must still give account for his actions. Mr. Van Paasen misses this and his otherwise insightful work suffers from the loss.

No comments: