Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Book Review: Human Traces by Sebastian Faulks

Book Review/Summer Reading

by Eric Green

Human Traces
Sebastian Faulks
Vintage International Books; $15.95
Page 655

The remarkable ability of Sebastian Faulks to keep readers at the edge of their minds when he develops his characters within extremely difficult periods of time is once again present in his new novel, Human Traces. His war, I would say anti-war, trilogy starting with the great World War I epic, Birdsong, continuing through the mid years with The Girl at the Lion d'Or and finishing with the also great book on World War II, Charlotte Gray, constitutes a masterpiece of literature.

Faust's honest and forthright approach has made all of the novels very significant. For leftists, his honest portrayal of the great historic role of the French Communist Party in Charlotte Gray gave filmmaker, Gillian Armstrong, the opportunity to repeat the heroic role on the silver screen, Hollywood. Billy Crudup played Julien Lavade, the symbolically key role during the resistance; and in her film using the same name; Armstrong made it crystal clear that he was a Communist Party leader. Revisionist history, especially since 1991/92 has tried to all but eliminate Communist Party involvement in these struggles.

The recent republication of H.L. Humes', 50 year old novel, Underground City, made that role all the more significant.

It is that same, matter-of-fact honesty through which Faulks takes readers in "teaching" many of us about the medical practice and research that took place in the latter half of the 19th Century and into the early part of the 20th.

At he conclusion of this book, Faust gives readers his "references" that put fact to the novelized fiction of his fictionalized medical scientists. This is a Faulks trademark of literature.

Human Traces involves English families coupled with French medical scientific counterparts, but given the emerging times, international characters creep in from Austria, Germany and even Russia. A trip to California is even included.

Oh! I failed to mention Faulks' medical scientists are mental health specialists, alienists of the day. Mental health topics either repel or attract readers; or, often at the same time.

The often-grim circumstances of mental illness those days are not glossed over, nor are it romanticized. "It is as it is" or was as Faulks sees it. As the novel continues these doctors end up being labeled psychotherapists and psychiatrists in the 20th Century.

The two future psychiatrists, Thomas and Jacques, standout as medical students with very strong academic and professional goals and then achievement. Oh, those goals. But, Faulks doesn't allow these future leaders to exist solely in their medical scientific successes and failures. The reader is also drawn into their very personal lives.

Faulks is also know for having strong woman characters in his novels, and Human Traces is no exception. Sonia, Thomas's sister, the center piece of the novel, has a wondrous and lively family life. Kitty survives the mental health systems of the times to also enjoy a good family life. Mom's clubs even existed in those days. Both Sonia and Kitty also become strong administrators and teachers. Faulks includes patients like Daisy and Mary in his lexicon of strong women.

The epic nature of the novel goes over a 70-year period, couple with the dramatic events taking place in Europe at that time.

As the novel moves into the 20th Century and disagreement between nations began to surface and confrontations started, my mind drifted to Birdsong. It was clear that that "War to end All Wars," would again exact its toll.

Again, the Batter of Somme turns up. I am reminded of Charles Todd's series of English detective, mysteries with detective Ian Rutledge, a living victim of the Somme.

I don't believe it is an accident that the Iraq War along with the worldwide threat of imperialism, especially US imperialism didn't keep these focuses on war by modern novelist and mystery writers.

The book is a little long, but the writer gets you through quickly so that you would like more at the end.

Click here to save cash and find low rates on auto loans.

No comments: