I won’t have time to read or reread another book from 1929 for the wonderful #1929Club, but when I looked at the year in literature, I realised just how many of the books published that year I have read in the past… and how many of them are by favourite authors! I really think the 1920s and 30s might be my favourite time in literature and there is quite a bit of variety in this particular year. By no means a cosy time, still recovering from one war and starting to prepare for another, a struggle for social and economic stability, a major financial crash, countries starting to militate for freedom from the shackles of empire. A time of great poverty but also shameless display of wealth, with socialist and labour union movements clashing with capitalist owners and the police. It must have felt like the end of the world at times, which meant unchained hedonism and a devil-may-care attitude too.
I can’t help feeling we are living through similar times now – but will today’s cultural output be equally creative, extraordinary and have a long-lasting impact? Just think of the effervescence of Paris, Berlin, Vienna, London and Bucharest/Iasi in 1929 in terms of literary, philosophical and artistic circles! Anyway, here are some of the most memorable books from that year.
Books about the war, looking towards the future but also nostalgic about vanished worlds:
E. M. Remarque: All Quiet on the Western Front – probably one of my favourite books about WW1, it was not popular at the time of publication in Germany because of its ‘defeatist’ attitude, but it gives us a great insight into ‘the other side’ (i.e. usually history is written only by the victors)
Richard Aldington: Death of a Hero – equally as excoriating about the stupidity and futility of war, just as critical of the mistakes and monstrous egos on the English side as Remarque was about the German side. I don’t know why this one seems to have slipped into oblivion.
Ernest Hemingway: A Farewell to Arms – I have to admit I am not a huge Hemingway fan (I tend to prefer his short stories to his novels, but overall he describes a man’s world which makes me as a woman feel somewhat superfluous and weak), but this is an apt description of the disillusionment and alienation felt by soldiers sent to war, impacting even on their ability to love and be loved.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery: Courrier Sud – not strictly speaking a war novel, although our knowledge of the author’s fate may colour our perception of his books about flying. A homage to the pioneers of early aviation, as he describes the life of the postal pilots.
Tanizaki Junichiro: Some Prefer Nettles – this story is not only about the death of a marriage, but also mourns the death of the traditional Japanese society (and culture), as it succumbs more and more to Western influences
Elizabeth Bowen: The Last September – as if WW1 was not enough, this book describes its aftermath – the Irish War of Independence, as it is perceived in one of the grandiose country mansions in Ireland, and its subsequent destruction
Although all of the below are classed as children’s books, it has occurred to me that they are quite dramatic and unsentimental, a real contrast to many of the more saccharine children’s books deemed suitable for younger readers.
Richard Hughes: A High Wind in Jamaica – sort of an adventure story, but actually the story of a kidnapping, living with pirates and violence and near-sexual abuse. I don’t remember being terrified reading it as a child – maybe I was too innocent to grasp all of its horrors? We read it in class, believe it or not.
Erich Kastner: Emil and the Detectives – the innocent sent to the big bad city, who ends up chasing the bad guys together with a gang of street kids – I loved this book so much as a child, it was the start of a lifelong love affair with urban noir. I particularly like the close relationship between Emil and his mother, very sweet.
Herge: Tintin in the Land of the Soviets – the first of the Tintin BD, this has a problematic history, as Herge had never set foot in the Soviet Union but was forced to write this almost as a piece of anti-communist propaganda by his boss, conservative newspaper owner and Catholic priest Norbert Wallez. As it turned out, many of the negative depictions of the Bolsheviks and of Stalin’s secret services were quite true…
Franklin W. Dixon: The Secret of the Caves (The Hardy Boys) – of course nowadays I know that there was no author of that name, but that it was a syndicate of writers who produced at least two Hardy Boys titles per year. The Secret of the Caves is the seventh in the original series, written by one of the best of the original authors, Leslie McFarlane. I loved all the Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and Trixie Belden books, although the ones I read were probably the ‘revised’ and modernised ones published from the 1950s onwards. They certainly seemed to epitomise the glamour of American teens to me.
As a treat, I have included three different covers of The Hardy Boys book, the original, plus one from the 1950s and one from the 1970s. The story got modernised too along the way – I wonder if anyone bothered to bring it into the 21st century? Oh, there we go, I found a cover dating from 2017, which looks much more childish.