Tag Archives: books

Review: The African Queen (film).

The African Queen.

The African Queen is one of those rare movies that improves upon the book. It has a much more satisfying denouement than Forester’s novel, even if it does perpetuate the pleasant myth that ship captains have the authority to solemnize marriages. But this is meant to be fictional entertainment, not a historical documentary.

It’s a complex narrative, told through three tightly plaited story lines. First, and most importantly, it’s a war story, set in German East Africa at the start of the First World War. Next, it’s an adventure that keeps you on the edge of your seat, no matter how often you’ve seen it. Lastly, it’s a love story, of the “unlikely romance” genre that’s built on a deeper development of character which implies that this is a meaningful relationship that will last.

The screenplay has such engaging, fast-paced writing that one forgets that without the war story line, there would be no plausible rationale for the adventure or the romance. Furthermore, the war story is built around the declared mission of a woman, Rose Sayer (who, until her brother’s untimely death, served as his missionary companion): to commit an act of war against a vessel of the Imperial German Navy. No such event occurred during the war, but the viewer comes away from the film feeling that it could have happened.

World War I in East Africa, map by Mehmet Berker

Given the times and her upbringing, we cannot doubt that after her grand adventure, Rose would happily settle down in a cottage surrounded with hollyhocks, there to bear Charlie Allnutt’s children and make blancmanges for the rest of her life. But we can also tell that without her, Charlie the drifter would have been happy to keep a low profile and float out the war in the backwaters of Africa. Rose makes a hero out of Charlie, not on the flimsy premise that he “rescued“ her from the hazards of a war-torn African colony, but by inspiring him to buck up and brave the leech-infested waters of the river, to help her achieve her grand design.

The African Queen thus becomes a tribute to the hundreds of thousands of women of Rose’s generation who served and inspired in wartime roles of amazing diversity: from traditional sock-knitting and bandage-rolling, and becoming nurses or voluntary aides, to munition workers, ambulance drivers, and innovative lifesavers, such as Madame Marie Curie with her mobile x-ray units, which she personally outfitted and personally delivered to hospitals and casualty clearing stations near the Western Front, and who trained doctors in their use.

Read the book by C. S. Forester, or not, as you like. But be sure to dial up the movie, or dig out your copy of it, and enjoy it for everything it can mean to you, in your understanding of the wars of history and your approach to the battles you face in your own life. Highly recommended.


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A Gift for Armchair Generals!


To thank the readers of this trench newspaper, the Editor presents this page from The Bookplate Book, Volume 1.

Instructions: Click on the image, download, print on letter-sized paper, cut on dotted lines, trim away excess margins, and paste inside book covers.

The Bookplate Book, Volume 1 is available direct from the printer and from Amazon. Find out more by following these links:

Chris the Story Reading Ape’s Blog

Complete Preview at Cloudup

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Review: The Distant Drum (Noakes)


The Distant Drum: A Memoir of a Guardsman in the Great War.

A masterpiece of a memoir: I was impressed enough to look up the soldier’s niece online, and wrote to thank her for making her uncle’s war story publicly available (she very graciously replied).

F. E. (“Fen”) Noakes did not originally write his memoir with the object of public consumption, but it’s fortunate that he was prevailed upon by others to prepare it for private printing, which preserved his work for future generations of readers and researchers. His account fully encompasses the British soldier’s Great War experience: from enlistment and training, into the front line and back to the rear areas, the Armistice, and finally demobilization.

He writes with clarity and sensitivity in a self-effacing style that engenders confidence in his truthfulness. It is evident that he trusts the reader’s imagination: he exercises discretion with the harrowing details that other writers have striven to pack into their writings. He shows that it’s not necessary to belabor readers with every hideous sight, sound and smell, to adequately illustrate the misery of the Great War battlefield experience.

The body of the book appears to reproduce the typeface and punctuation conventions of a much earlier printing. The care with which it was prepared is shown in the scarcity of typographical errors. A Foreword by his niece, an Introduction by an Imperial War Museum historian, and the author’s original Preface function as an overture to the work. The volume is a sturdily bound hardcover in a dust jacket of elegantly understated design. The only photographs are those of the author which appear on the cover.

Fen Noakes supplies a wealth of information for me to follow up in research for my novel. I’m pleased to add his memoir to my Great War library.

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