Age 14 Geert Spillebeen
Ok, y'all know how much I loved Kipling's Choice. And how much I love a book about WWI in general.
This is based on a true story. While Spillebeen references the research he did and how looking through John Condon's files, his story came alive again and Spillebeen wanted to tell it, the author's note does not go into detail on what exactly is true and what is imagined.
The story is this-- Patrick Condon always was big for his age. When he was 10, he dropped out of school and told the boss he was 14, so he could work on the docks* in Ballybricken with his father and older brothers. Not content with dock life, he steals his brother's name** and says he's 16, so he can join the Irish guard. When WWI starts, he ups his age to 18 so he can go fight. When he is killed in Flanders field, his real age is only 14.
There are several ins and outs of this story-- Patrick's story from the docks to the army and various posts of the army and his coming of age when everyone thought was was of age. Also, the friends he meets and his family's reaction along the way. There's also the story of the building war, and the realities versus romantic notions of war. And then, we occasionally get chapters from the lab with the development of mustard and chlorine gas for use in warfare.
This historical note deals mainly with chemical warfare and is interesting, but the chemical warfare chapters were too sparse-- I wanted that storyline to be much more, or entirely cut. I think the historical note about chemical warfare was important either way, because it was very important to Patrick's story, but I also wanted a lot more information about Patrick's true story.
Overall though, a very good book that I really enjoyed. I hope we continue to see more of Spillebeen's work translated into English and available in the US.
*Ok, so there's one incident while working on the docks that gets mentioned A LOT in reviews and shocks people and blah blah blah and I was really surprised when I got to that scene because I was like "Really? That's what everyone is so worked up about?" Basically, there is a bit of pederasty and it's not entirely necessary to the plot, which is why I'm wondering how much is true, because if that's a true part of the story, then yes, it should be there, but if it's something that Spillebeen added, eh. BUT, here's the thing. It's rather veiled and you have to know some things about life in order to understand what's going on. A lot of readers who aren't ready for that sort of thing aren't going to understand the scene at all. I wouldn't have commented on it AT ALL, except that in everything I've read and heard about this book, everyone mentions it, so I wanted to mention it, if at least to tell people that it's minor and not graphic and not as huge a deal as everyone makes it out to be.
**At which point he becomes John, but I'll keep calling him Patrick here to make it less confusing.
Book Provided by... my local library
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