Book Review: Readings

Tom Paulin

Readings

The Invasion Handbook

by Tom Paulin

Faber & Faber, 208pp. $22
A recent fit of ambition led me to check out a shelf's worth of history books -- big ones on the American Revolution, the Civil War, the World Wars, and Vietnam. I had just cracked Keegan's The First World War when holiday travels intervened.

Meanwhile, Tom Paulin's The Invasion Handbook landed on my desk. One should always be so lucky to have such a fascinating artistic gateway to intellectual pursuits.

The Invasion Handbook is a poetic sequence that treats the events leading up to and opening the second World War. By various byways, such as a view of the Spanish Civil War through the eyes of Martha Gellhorn, the poems of the book take us from Versailles in 1919 through the Weimar Republic and the rise of Hitler -- the 1925 Locarno Treaties (which tried to undo Versailles' depredations) -- to Churchill's rise to the prime ministership and on up to the Battle of Britain.

Paulin has been publishing good poetry for more than 25 years, but the rest of his background -- as a scholar of literature, as an essayist, and as a deeply political writer -- serves him well as he journeys across a large physical and mental landscape of rich historical and literary allusion. His lines strike an admirable balance: plainspoken (yet not plain), with bursts of inventive language that avoid becoming thorny or corny. He leavens his verse with tidbits of Russian, Italian, Latin, and especially German, and he also taxed my rusty college French by breaking into that language for a few lines at a time. Rather than putting me off, though, this made me want to brush up so that I could better understand him. The poems are interesting enough to invite such extra effort; their compelling treatment of this vital era is just the thing to launch me back into that shelf of big books.

The fruit of Paulin's craft and scholarship remind us that the chain of events he depicts grew out of one of the most brutal conflicts ever to mar our species, but then grew into something even worse. More to the point, the book reminds us that the wars were prosecuted by real people who had chances to do things otherwise, didn't, and saw horror ensue. It was not inevitable, and it was not so long ago. Thus does a book of poems by an Oxford don provide highly relevant commentary on today's headlines.

  • More in This Issue

  • Love

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Book Reviews
<i>Presidio</i> by Randy Kennedy
Presidio by Randy Kennedy
For his debut novel, Kennedy creates a road story that portrays the harsh West Texas terrain beautifully and fills it with sympathetic characters.

Jay Trachtenberg, Sept. 14, 2018

Hunting the Golden State Killer in <i>I'll Be Gone in the Dark</i>
Hunting the Golden State Killer in I'll Be Gone in the Dark
How Michelle McNamara tracked a killer before her untimely death

Jonelle Seitz, July 20, 2018

More by Tim Walker
The World as He Knows It
The World as He Knows It
H.W. Brands' "The Age of Gold" is his 16th book in 15 years -- and he has only just begun

Sept. 13, 2002

Readings
Unacknowledged Legislation: Writers in the Public Sphere

March 23, 2001

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

The Invasion Handbook, Tom Paulin, Faber and Faber

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle