Author: Croswell Bowen
First Published: 2013
Page Count: 218
Film/ TV Adaptation: No
Rating: 3/5 Stars
A revealing look at desert warfare in WWII by a photographer that has everything but the punch of battle action to drive it home.
*Treasure trove of mini WWII stories *Refreshing perspective of WWII
“It has long been a strong conviction with me that a modern reporter should simultaneously make use of the camera and the notebook.” Croswell Bowen is an American photographer who has volunteered to travel to Africa and the Middle East to capture the events of WWII in this part of the globe. What begins as merely a trip to visually document warfare becomes an eye-opening experience for Bowen about the lives of the soldiers from all over the world. It is not on the battlefield, but in the hospitals and care stations that Bowen sees the true effect of war and how easily the lines between allies and enemies can become blurred in the face of tragedy.
When you think of WWII, images of Hitler or the concentration camps come to mind. But miserable desert warfare and countries like Africa are not usually the first things I associate with that war, which is why this book is so unique. I hadn’t read about WWII from the perspective of, not only a photographer, but of someone fighting in the Middle East. And what was also great was the story was not singularly about Bowen. The reader follows him in his travels, but the story is mostly about his observations of other soldiers from England, Australia, or America and about their stories. You get a wide range of interesting mini narratives from people with all sorts of backgrounds. Since Bowen fought heavily alongside the British, I learned a lot more about their military and the class system of the time period then I had anywhere else.
As good as the varying narratives are, the one thing this book lacked was action. That was my only problem with it but it was a big problem. This is a book about war and being caught in the middle of it. However, when Bowen finally sees action it’s near the end of the story and he is transported out of it early. The only action we get after that is from the occasional sounds of air raids. The stories of the soldiers make a great military book but it was hard to keep my interest when the author is just relying on that. The reader hears about all the action through second-hand accounts from the soldiers, but you rarely see it which doesn’t make for a very thrilling war story. It might just be me comparing this to other military memoirs I’ve read, but I’ve learned that I prefer a better balance of both.
Bowen’s story is unique and I don’t think it’s something that should be left untold or unread. It’s only a two hundred page book with some interesting pictures that show you a different side to WWII. It’s easy to read and I would recommend checking it out if you had the time and inclination, especially if you love anything involving WWII. However, it would probably not be my go-to recommendation for a next read.
*I received a free copy of this book for this review from the author.