Voices through writing

This hook explores how fiction can communicate others’ experiences. The book My Brother’s War by David Hill is used to show two very different perceptions of the First World War.

The cover of David Hill’s book My Brother’s War (Penguin NZ, 2012).(external link)

The cover of David Hill’s book My Brother’s War (Penguin NZ, 2012).

Context

My Brother’s War by David Hill is the story of two brothers who have very different perspectives and experiences of the First World War. William eagerly volunteers to go to the front line while Edmund is a conscientious objector and refuses to fight. Both young men will end up on the bloody battlefields of France, but their journeys there, while parallel, are completely different. While William learns to throw hand grenades at training camp, Edmund is arrested, and when William travels to France as a soldier, Edmund is transported as a prisoner and forced to work on the front line.

Through experiences both brothers have in England and France, they begin to see the war from different perspectives. In a terrifying culminating battle their beliefs are put to the ultimate test.

Fiction provides an accessible insight into others’ experiences as well as being an outlet for the writers. Many books have been published about the First World War, including some that were written by returned soldiers; an example is Civilian into Soldier by John A. Lee.

Possible discussion questions

  • How might fictional accounts of the war differ from factual accounts of it?
  • How do the methods used to tell stories during war shape the story that is told?
  • What were the roles and experiences of young New Zealand people during the First World War, and how has the war influenced their role now?
  • How were narratives written about the war after it different from those written during the war?
  • Why do people write novels about the First World War? Have authors’ reasons for writing about the war changed over time?
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