Peter Washington

War Made Him

Siegfried Sassoon: The Journey from the Trenches - A Biography (1918-1967)

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BEGINNING AS IT does in Baghdad, home to his paternal ancestors, encompassing a war laden with symbolism, and ending somewhat unhappily in rural England, the story of Siegfried Sassoon is timely when the British are engaged again in Iraq, a country they more or less created and may be about to dismantle. Considered in such a context, Sassoon can be seen not only as an interesting writer (would one put it any higher than that?), but as a figure in the long and complex history of Britain’s relations – especially her literary relations – with abroad. Not an easy idea to keep in mind, I agree, when reading Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, which many people take to be the quintessence of Englishness. Yet that book could only have been written by an outsider, a man for whom the Shires were, in their way, as exotic as the souk might have seemed to the Cheshire farmers from whom he was also descended.

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