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The Wars (Penguin Modern Classics) [Paperback]

Timothy Findley
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 24 2005

Robert Ross, a sensitive nineteen-year-old Canadian officer, went to war—The War to End All Wars. He found himself in the nightmare world of trench warfare, of mud and smoke, of chlorine gas and rotting corpses. In this world gone mad, Robert Ross performed a last desperate act to declare his commitment to life in the midst of death.

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Timothy Findley's slim, dense novel The Wars offers nothing short of an explanation of human violence. However alien or mad Findley's World War I events become, war itself is repeatedly depicted as damnably quotidian. A front-line nurse confesses, "the passions involved were as ordinary as me and my sister fighting over who's going to cook the dinner. And who won't." Bringing Dostoyevsky's moral palette to the trenches of the Great War, The Wars seems compelled to reveal how the same men who save one another's lives will also torture trench rats or stray cats for sport.

Written in surgically precise prose and studded with unforgettable scenes and memorable characters, The Wars is Findley at his best. In Cambridgeshire are "towns with names like Camden Lights and Grantchester--roads that wind past canals and over bridges--whirl you round a hundred village greens, scattering geese and waving at children--whip you past the naked swimmers in the ponds and deposit you at inn yards where the smell of ale and apples makes you drunk before you've passed the gate." Informed, compassionate, and insightful, The Wars is uniquely sensitive to the causes of social division and union. --Darryl Whetter --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'The ferocious truth of a work of art.' The New Yorker 'The Wars is quite simply one of the best novels of the Great War. A magnificent book.' Province Vancouver --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
I am surprised at the reviews of this novel. I see some people claiming to have literally burned this book and I see a ?teacher? who condemns a Governor General?s Award winning novel without the courtesy of proper punctuation or even capital letters. And I see people claiming that this novel is the greatest ever produced by a Canadian. The truth is somewhere in between. But make no mistake: it is a classic for good reason.

Anger comes from confusion so it is no surprise to see many angry people reacting to ?The Wars?. It is a difficult read. Robert Ross is a difficult character to identify with because Findley holds him at arm?s length for almost the entire novel. The only instances I remember where the reader is given direct access to Robert?s innermost thoughts are in the opening section, before he enlists in the army. From there we are shown his actions and only the most obvious of thoughts. Much of the novel is presented as hearsay, where the reader sees the toll the war takes on both his family and personal life, and this is perhaps the reason for the negative reviews here: the reader cannot become attached to Robert Ross. Findley does not present empathy as an option. We are forced to examine his actions coolly with little emotion involved save the horror of killing or the pleasure of love. What does this say about Findley?s goal with this novel? Why does he not allow us to be close to Robert Ross? Because he is not a hero. He is not a great man. He was the average soldier (or officer, in this case) and his trials were average for the Great War.

This is a novel about World War One written sixty years (or so) after the armistice, and we are now approaching its one hundred year anniversary.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Respectable but unspectacular May 3 1999
By A Customer
Every once in a while I come across a book which I can't quite really get into, but I'm not sure why exactly. The Wars is just such a book. Perhaps it gets too buried in hidden motifs and literary allusions and the cleverness of the chronology that it alienates the reader.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not that good Aug. 27 1998
By A Customer
Findley's writings are reader friendly, and the story flows smoothly enough. However the plot consists of hardly related incidents and the absence of a constant antagonist creates a bit of an aimless drift. Nevertheless, the images are vivid and the theme is poignant.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
By Quetzal
From reading the other reviews for 'The Wars' by Timothy Findley it looks like they eithered loved this book or really hated it. Me I come somewhere down the middle since Findley does a comendable job when describing the terror and unreality of being on the front line of war, but he loses me with the abstract tone of the story with its changing narratives (from the archivest looking at pictures of Robert Ross,to interviews with two people that knew Ross, and normal third person ominiscent narrative). Because of it I couldn`t get a strong emotional connection to the main character.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Did we read the same book? Sept. 15 2004
I feel as though, reading through all of the reviews of this novel, that I must not have read the same book as those who gave this book poor ratings. I believe it is honestly one of the best books I have ever read.
Yes, the characters are not normal--but they start off that way. It is the war that tears apart their family, turns them into killers, forces them to commit acts of depravity. Yes, Ross is a very complex character--but not to begin with. He begins as a simple, if not naive young adult in Canada and ends a mad, misunderstood soldier in Europe. Yes, Findley changes the narrative every 20 pages or so and yes, it can be confusing. But the book is about finding the humanity in the inhumanity of war by taking a look at a fictional but personal case. Findley's aim is not neatly tying up loose ends and making everything "fit" but unravelling tied ends and showing that nothing "fits."
If you enjoy happy endings that give easy answers and generic lessons, read another book. Findley's work is complicated, disturbing, and heavy and I for one enjoyed it. It's a book I still think about years after reading it and would recommend not "burning it to the ground" as some other critics have suggested, but leaving it until one is mature enough to comprehend its brevity.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Wars tells what the media ignores Nov. 22 2003
The Wars is a memory of Robert Ross, a nineteen year old Canadian Soldier who fought in the First World War, as reconstructed by the narrator through articles, photographs and interviews of those who knew him during his short life. It is before this life ended that controversy surrounds, when he is purported to have committed such unthinkable atrocities that remain unnamed until the conclusion of the tale.
Beginning with the loss of his eldest sister to the disease Spina Bifida, the story moves to his resulting enlistment to the Canadian Army, brief training in the general tactics of war, and shipment overseas to join in the all-consuming chaos of the First World War.
Spread across the battle fields of Europe, the life of Robert Ross re-enacted as the pieces are brought together. First person accounts of the utterly humiliating circumstances, impotence, and insanity he encounters as the fires that pursue him throughout his life are interwoven throughout to complete the picture of a man misunderstood for the crimes he committed.
It is these first person accounts that lead us through the plot in an attempt not to justify, but to perhaps give the reader some insight as to why Ross' life ended so clearly counter to how it had begun.
Timothy Findley set out with a purpose in The Wars, which was to illustrate the insanity of war by manipulating the conventions of how atrocity is understood, and finally tearing these conventions down altogether. To do this, he took the fictitious example of a soldier who had dishonoured himself in battle, and then forces us to understand how and why such a thing could occur. For a more in depth analysis, check out yourwords dot ca.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars The Wars - Timothy Findley
It was written in, marked up, and slightly ripped. A bit disappointed in the quality.
Published 28 days ago by Fred Entz
3.0 out of 5 stars Needed it for a class and it came in good condition.
The book was okay. Needed it for a class and it came in good condition.
Published 3 months ago by Kaylee Verkruisen
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic.
This novel speaks volumes in symbolism and will always be close to my heart. Through all the hard and the few good this book will make your heart sing and cry.
Published 5 months ago by Gracelynn
4.0 out of 5 stars As the archivist, you don't look to the past and find it. You sort...
I loved Timothy Findley's book. It's just so gorgeous in every way. The style, the concept of making the reader an historiographer, the fragmented narrative--all of this makes 'The... Read more
Published 23 months ago by AP
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible story from a bygone era.
It's been 18 years since I read this book and I remember it clearly. The writing is THAT good. Just now, as I write this review, I'm thumbing through it and I can vividly recall... Read more
Published on Dec 30 2011 by David Sabine
4.0 out of 5 stars Still relevant
I read this many years ago, but Findlay's vision of the war remains in my memory as vivid and telling. Read more
Published on Dec 2 2010 by V Woolf
1.0 out of 5 stars The Wars---Two Thumbs Down !
First off I would like to say that I have one specific type of book in my library....WW1 and WW11 Military history. I read both fictional and non fictional accounts.... Read more
Published on Oct. 20 2009 by Furyman
5.0 out of 5 stars the characters and relationship of mr. and mrs. ross
characters relationship, describe the relationship of mr. and mrs ross, is there any details of their courship, what is the insight into their relationship?
Published on March 29 2005 by leanne
5.0 out of 5 stars did we read the same book?
I feel as though, reading through all of the reviews of this novel, that I must not have read the same book as those who gave this book poor ratings. Read more
Published on Sept. 15 2004 by bookishgal25
5.0 out of 5 stars Powereful
This is a novel that definitly stays with you after you have read it, due to it's power and emotion. Read more
Published on Feb. 23 2004 by mk_2
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