I remember reading Carrie’s War when I was about eleven or twelve and being quite stuck by it. I can’t for the life of me remember what it was that stuck me about it, but I remember thinking about it quite a bit afterwards. But a lot of the story slipped from my mind between reading it and rereading it a few weeks ago, and I read it with a mostly fresh set of eyes.
I love my history, and have studied the Second World War at school and university quite a number of times. It is a period I find very interesting – not the fighting in the trenches per se, but life back home, and people going about their day to day lives while having this sense of impending doom over them. But carry on they did – so some of the stories I enjoy reading the most aren’t entirely about the Second World War, but more use the war as a kind of catalyst for what happens. An example of this is The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, where the four children are sent to the countryside to escape the London bombings, and have an adventure because of where they were sent. Goodnight Mr Tom could also be described as this, I suppose – the war is a kind of background for what is happening in the story of Will and Mr Tom’s relationship. And Carrie’s War is another. Carrie great mistake and the events that happen that lead to her great mistake are not directly linked to the war, other than her and her brother being sent to the countryside (once again – there is definitely a sub-sub-genre in children’s fiction of children being sent to the English countryside to escape the war).
All this is making me think about how history can be grand, and sweeping, and full of tragic loss of lives and bloodshed and disaster, but it can also be full of quiet, personal stories, where history is raging softly in the background, like a tune turned down low at a dinner party – it’s there, but it’s not the main focus. Because bloodshed and disaster and sweeping tragedy can be grand, but they can also be very distant. However, a young girl making a decision she regrets – well, that’s a history we can all understand as it is probably part of our own personal history.
Muriel Rukeyser once said, ‘The world is not made of atoms, but of tiny stories.’ I think you can also say that the world is not made up of one grand event, but of millions of tiny stories, each person adding their story to the grand story that is the world.