Tuesday, March 15, 2011

'One Of The Great Pieces . . . About War'

T.E. Lawrence's account in Seven Pillars of Wisdom of the raid on a Turkish train carrying sick and wounded Turkish soldiers, Austrian officers and NCOs, and some Arab women is an extraordinary literary set piece, one that is vividly and accurately brought to life in Lawrence of Arabia, the 1962 David Lean-directed movie starring Peter O'Toole as Lawrence. Writes Michael Korda of Lawrence's account in Hero:
"[It is] one of the great pieces of modern writing about war: dry, businesslike, and ever so slightly ironic in tone, it is brilliantly underplayed, so that at first the only moments of horror the reader feels are when Lawrence enters the smashed carriage full of dead or dying Turks, when he is surrounded by the women pleading for their lives, or when the Austrians are killed after surrendering to him. But reading his account of the incident a second time, one realizes just how gifted a writer Lawrence was. The horror is there, all right, in tiny details, just as it is in the scenes of battle in Tolstoy's War and Peace, or in certain scenes in Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. The spare, unemotional prose, unlike Lawrence's much lusher descriptions of landscapes and people, does not hide the reality of the incident -- the dead and dying Turks; the shooting of the Arab wounded; the noise, smoke, bloodshed, fear, carnage, and wild looting, all of it over and done with in less than ten minutes in the implacable desert heat. The scene is a small masterpiece, like a sketch by Goya. Lawrence does not tell us what he felt, and does not for a moment try to present himself as heroic or sympathetic; nor does he attempt to infuse the scene with glory, or shock the reader with the blood and gore of battle. Painstakingly, he simply attempts to tell the reader exactly what happened."

No comments: