Celebrate with me Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for and its 1 year anniversary from its publishing debut on Amazon. Looking at war from the perspective of all those sucked into it, civilians, soldiers, military working dogs, MWD, and eve belligerents, Silent Heroes is a narrative about the value of life and the necessity of combat; the terror of dying; the ordeal of seeing your loved ones and your platoon-mates killed in front of your eyes; the trauma of taking a human life.
“What I tried to convey through Silent Heroes is that all those impacted by war are, at the end of a fighting day, human being with dreams and families. A war’s consequences, like the shadow of a nightmare, reach far beyond the battlefield. Perhaps being a woman that writes about war I couldn’t ignore my inner voice speaking for the daughter, the wife, and the mother in me.”
On the book itself and on how it came to be, read below.
If for each war victim would a war book be written, then each one of these books would be a must read, in their honor, don’t you think? War stories, as we remember them told by grandparents, always had something nostalgic about them, although the brutality of war, in its essence, was remembered as a traumatic experience. Perhaps the nostalgia came from the people caught in battles, the friendship,the humanity that united them.
The richness of emotions that both warrior and narrator go through when dealing with this subject has fascinated plenty of authors throughout time. Perhaps for an author another intriguing aspect is the location, as war novels generally take place in territories far away, if not geographically then through their descriptions, full of blood and pain, love, loss and hope. Time frame presents an alluring aspect as well, a war story will have a before and an after, while characters don’t have to have come with a pedigree to be memorable. In a war story anyone can be a hero,a soldier, a child, a dog. War stories also stir issues connected with spiritual inheritance, loss of memory (spiritual or factual) and, last but not least, identity and humanity.
Essential in all the novels below is the viscerality of writing and the relentless way in which a war changes a man forever. Reading such a type of novel will raise many questions about our condition as people and will make you aware that nothing is guaranteed when it comes to an extreme experience, one having the potential for total transformation.
7 War Books You Must Read:
1 – Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
A book just as popular nearly one hundred years after publication, to me the main theme in Gone with the Wind is that of survival.
The novel combines several genres (psychological, buildungsroman, romance, historical ) and manages to create an unforgettable story, perhaps the most beloved story about the Confederate States of America. and it does this by the use of its main characters, especially Scarlett O’Hara.
The theme of survival and the reason for the courage that derives from it, the power to never give up as well as the unbridled passion of a young soul, the love for money and the saying “Tomorrow is another day”, plus the ability to identify, to some extent , with the characters of the novel, still make Gone with the Wind a modern work, although the historical background belongs to the American Civil War era of the United States history.
Do you know what inspired the title? It was a line from the poem Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae by Ernest Dowson; the poem’s most famous line is: “I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind.”
“If Gone With the Wind has a theme it is that of survival. What makes some people come through catastrophes and others, apparently just as able, strong, and brave, go under? It happens in every upheaval. Some people survive; others don’t. What qualities are in those who fight their way through triumphantly that are lacking in those that go under? I only know that survivors used to call that quality ‘gumption.’ So I wrote about people who had gumption and people who didn’t.’
Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind
2 -War and Peace by Lev Tolstoy
Praised for being very much in line with the reality, the events of War and Peace take place in 1812, during Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, and were rendered with force and expressiveness by Lev Tolstoy, especially because the author already lived the experience of war, fighting in the Crimean War. It is recommended to read in episodes, taking into account the fact that the novel has over 1000 pages.
The novel is the chronicle of three families from the high Russian aristocracy of beginning of the 19th century, Rostov, Bolkonsky and Bezuhov, whose joys, love stories and dramas take place during the Napoleonic Wars, especially the Austerlitz and Borodino battles. The book raises questions about survival and death during peace and war, as well as the necessity of war. Napoleon’s invasion of Russia destroyed million of lives on both sides, and worth mentioning is that, beside he Russian lives lost, the French army lost about half a million of soldiers of French, Italian, Belgian, German and Austrian nationalities.
A definite whirlwind of love, loss, and war.
3 – A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway’s short semi-autobiographical novel takes place on the Italian front during the First World War and describes a man’s struggles with two experiences that altered his existence in one way or another: the experience of war and that of love.
But war offers fake hopes of glory and is a lover that does not accept sharing – only by turning into a deserter can the hero hope to find true love.
It is a manifesto against the absurdity called war; it is the story of an logical man who understands that his fulfillment as a human being stands above the ambitions of those who incite towards unnecessary battles, a fulfillment that can be achieved peacefully, without weapons and without sacrificing human lives.
4 – King Rat by James Clavell
Believe it or not, this was the author’s literary debut. Set during World War II, the novel describes the struggle for survival of American, Australian, British, Dutch, and New Zealander prisoners of war in a Japanese death camp in Singapore. Clavell himself was a prisoner in the notorious Changi Prison camp, where the novel is set. One of the three major characters, Peter Marlowe, is based upon Clavell.
Clavell’s King Rat is a story about the struggle for survival, about friendship and hatred, in an extremely harsh, dehumanized world, in which only the strongest resist.
5 – Bridge of Spies: A True Story of the Cold War by Giles Whittell
This is actually a 2010 nonfiction book documenting the spy prisoner exchanges between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Tom Hanks does a magnificent job as James B. Donovan under Spielberg’s direction in the 2015 movie with the same title.
Bridge of Spies, remarkably researched, tells the true story of three incredible characters and those who cross their paths: William Fisher, alias Rudolf Abel, a British born KGB agent arrested by the FBI and jailed as a Soviet superspy for trying to steal America’s nuclear secrets; Gary Powers, an American U-2 pilot captured during a reconnaissance mission over the closed cities of central Russia; and Frederic Pryor, a young American graduate student in Berlin mistakenly identified by Stasi, East Germany’s secret police, as spy, arrested and held without charge.
Bridge of Spies is a lesson on humanity tinged by the sour taste of pathological mistrust that fuels the arms race and the political espionage.
6 – The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
This contemporary novel exploring the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the years-long struggle the Afghan people was faced with, resulting in the flight of refugees to Pakistan, Iran or America. Told through the voices of two mercenaries, the book demonstrates that although conflicts and wars change over time, carnage and destruction always remain the same.
7 – Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for by Patricia Furstenberg
Silent Heroes looks at the War in Afghanistan through the eyes of those caught in it: US Marines, local population, and even the Taliban.
If in other novels that talk about war the collective drama is the main focus, which seems to crush the small pains of the individual, Furstenberg focuses on human interactions, placing great emphasis on the turmoil the heroes go through, be it US Marines or the Afghan populace. Silent Heroes underlines how family ties and love are the reality that will never be obliterated by war and it will always stand, no mater what forces will try to overpower life on earth.
A book not to be missed, Silent Heroes is masterfully researched and punctuated with epic description that offer a respire from the harsh realities of war. A story about humans, but about dogs too, especially the military dogs taking part in wars.
Chose as one of the 5 Books Everyone Should Read in Their Lifetime.
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Thinking of my top five heroines of all time I only had to look into my heart.
My Number One Heroine is my Mother
A woman of outstanding achievements and utmost kindness. You have to see know many people, from all walks of life, are happy to meet her although she is retired now (she worked as head nurse in the surgery department), and how warmly and highly they speak of her, of how she has helped them or, simply, of how much kindness she showed them. My Mom is my heroine, through all of her sacrifices – those I know of and those I don’t know, yet I wish I would so that they will not be forgotten.
My Number Two Heroine is my Amazing Teen Daughter
My daughter, for her outstanding courage, optimism and perseverance. To be a teenager in today’s über-technologized world, with so much pressure on all levels is far more challenging than it was, um, years ago, when it has been my turn to emerge from my chrysalis.
Yet my daughter’s courage gets her standing tall each day and, through her optimism, she discovers something to be grateful for each evening.
My Number Three Heroine is Agatha Christie
For her unique and never-ending literary flair and for her courage and determination. I first read her Autobiography in my teen years and again, at different stages of my life. She didn’t have it easy; it took years to publish her first novel and she had to balance her writing career with a tumultuous personal life. Yet her plots are complex, well-structured and her psychological insight so profound – I do admire her for her well organized mind. “When I grow up I want to be like Agatha Christie” 🙂
My Number Four Heroine is a fictional character
But which one?
Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell?
Remarkable, one of the strongest and most memorable female charters of classic literature. Of course, one can admire her or find her fault, or both at the same time. I will always admire her spirit and will to stay alive, to keep her own safe, and to succeed. I was a teenager when I first read this book and Scarlett’s image has followed me well into my (early) adulthood. Perhaps, unknowingly, this is one of the reasons why historical fiction had always been an interest of mine. Mitchell painted in vivid colors the end of an era and the unrest of an emerging one.
We have all mourned the loss of a specific time in our lives, be it a childhood holiday, a ritual, or a state of spirit we can never return to. And especially now, living the Covid-19 Pandemic, we do say our goodbyes to an idyllic era during which rituals were in place, life followed its course, and traditions and values were well established. Much like in Gone With the Wind, we leave the gentle South behind. What will tomorrow bring us?
Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen?
Charming, intelligent and strong willed, Lizzie has caught my attention (and many late night reading hours) due to the question she rises for all of us. Can two such opposite personalities really find common ground and achieve happiness? And mostly, the question not answered by Austen (but the one I know I have at the back of my mind each time I read this book and looking for clues as to its answer): will they live together happily ever after?
It is a game of give and get, between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy. Much like any relationship, isn’t it?
Claire Fraser from Outlander by Diana Gabaldon?
Yes, she is smart and stubborn, but she is also brave, determined and has high personal values and for these qualities I do admire her. I admit having read the entire Outlander series published thus far and, at one stage, I honestly felt like setting camp outside Diana’s home, waiting for “Go Tell the Bees that I’m Gone” to be finished. I tried to imagine leading a life during the 18th century yet I could not see myself having the successful – although tumultuous – existence that Claire Fraser did. Nor could I leave my children behind. Quite a few modern life necessities and, um, amenities, like chocolate, coffee and toilet paper, would certainly hold me from taking that leap, to say the least.
Temperance Brennan from Bones by Kathy Reichs?
More than once I admitted being hooked on Kathy Reichs’ books. If you are familiar with her novels and the TV series you will admit that the two heroines are different, although both equally strong and appealing and I admire them equally.
Tempe Brennan from the TV series is young, fierce and fearless, successful too, standing on her own two feet despite her young age. I admire her for that. I think that my younger self would have identified with her.
Tempe Brennan the book character is older, independent and equally successful, intelligent and with a sharp sense of humor, although she can get herself in (life-threatening) trouble. I can identify with her now, as a more seasoned reader and as a mother too. In some of the books Tempe’s daughter tags along and Tempe does an admiring job at handling her – and if you have teens in your life you know what I mean.
My Number Five Heroine…
Are the strong women. All strong women.
The women who had their heart shredded, and who learned from their past and moved on. Women who were able to leave all pain behind, and follow their road further, stronger and sure of themselves, yet not afraid to show their feelings and that they are vulnerable because they are humans . Women who know how much they are worth and who know when they make a mistake. Women who seize the moment and make the most of each day. Women who do not seek the spotlight, but demand respect. Honest women. Women who still share their heart and follow it.
Because the heart is at the center of life.
I do hope you enjoyed reading My Top Five Heroines of all Time.
Although a safe haven from married life and
death through childbirth, a place where one could pursue intellectual
interests, convents were often under attack especially during the Early Middle
Ages mostly due to their unfortunate location – too secluded or near a landing
place for invaders. Nuns were raped or killed, sometimes even burned alive
within the walls of their convent. One
way to prevent rape was self-mutilation, often facial, as suicide was not a
choice and martyrdom was already associated with the merit of keeping one’s
Living the secluded, routine life of a convent filled with hardships and often uncertainty, it is hard to find nuns without faults. A sexual misdeed was occasionally present. Very much like today, during the Middle Ages celibacy was not a natural condition for the vast majority of humans, only for extraordinary ones with higher goals. After the first half of the Middle Ages, nuns often underwent activities outside the convent’s walls mingling with the communards, exposed to the minstrel’s immoral songs, the laywomen’s teasing, or the savoury charms of the upper class. Often, even the wealthy ladies lodging in the convents’ guest rooms were a temptation to younger nuns through their wealth and immorality.
In the 13th century, two nuns of Godstow
were excommunicated for “casting off their habits, fleeing from their house and
leading a worldly and dissolute life,” as written in the Register of the Bishop.
Recent archaeological findings at Little
Priory in Oxford, an 1110-1525 medieval convent, shows clear evidence of sinner
nuns. British archaeologist Paul Murray and his team uncovered a woman buried
outside the church grounds in a face-down position: “perhaps a penitential act
to atone for her sins,” says Murray. She could be the last prioress, Katherine
Wells, removed from the head of the convent by the powerful Cardinal Wolsey for
a number of misdeeds, some of which might be true, some not, as Cardinal Wolsey
desired to dissolve the nunnery. Wells was accused of giving birth to an
illegitimate child fathered by a priest from Kent and of stealing the convent’s
belonging to provide a dowry for her daughter.
By the 13th century Pope Boniface VIII issued a papal bull decreeing that convents must be enclosed with cloisters and nuns should never see the secular world again, thus live more holy lives. But by then convents were self-sufficient and abbesses controlled enormous properties, holding more power than any other contemporary woman.
Love, above all. But which love?
Let’s remember that many of those who found themselves committed to a religious life while in their youth were sent to convents or monasteries by their families, and at a much younger age. They can’t be held responsible for not taking to the religious life.
A Juliet – like nun who faked her own death
Recently, medieval historians from the University of York discovered that a nun even faked her own death to escape convent life and built her own family. A Latin marginal note dating from 1318, written by archbishop William Melton in a convent’s register condemns the acts of Joan, a Benedictine nun, who “out of a malicious mind simulating a bodily illness, she pretended to be dead not dreading for the health of her soul, and with the help of numerous of her accomplices, evildoers, with malice aforethought, crafted a dummy in the likeness of her body in order to mislead the devoted faithful and she had no shame in procuring its burial in a sacred space amongst the religious of that place.” (source).
Nuns, very much like priests, had to perform a dangerous job during Medieval times as once outside the fake safety of their rocky religious walls they were exposed to a harsh, turbulent life of wars, killings, deadly diseases (Black Death), painkiller-free physical pain and no human rights or law-enforcement whatsoever. A job that certainly not everyone was cut for.
Convents and their influence on the Anthropocene
Sprouting between towns, halving distances,
convents became outposts of civilisation. They encouraged the development of
more towns, the creation of roads -both contributing to deforestation in Medieval
Europe. By the 13th century, the geographical layout of Europe was greatly
Not all women or young girls with a religious calling chose to become a nun and join a convent. Some became hermits, living a solitary life in the wilderness, others took only temporary vows as beguines; some became tertiaries, joining various orders while the most determined ones became anchoresses, taking a vow of living a solitary life in a cell. What ties them all is the variety of lives they chose to lead, so unlike the battered existence of medieval women, their confidence in the purpose of their relationship with God and their stoic approach in pursuing it, embracing all sacrifices.
Looking back through time and space we can certainly say that these women, through their quiet yet not silent humanity, were the true leaders of the medieval religious life. There is so much more to learn beside convents and the religious life of medieval women and I’ll return with more shared knowledge.
I hope you enjoyed the first part of my research to learn why convents were so thought after, why the religious life (and not only) of Medieval women was so tightly connected with them.
A convent’s curriculum
Of a very high standard, a convent’s curriculum covered Latin reading and writing, religion, morals and manners. Painting, weaving, spinning, and embroidery were also taught, with the latest involving deep knowledge of geometry and design, allegories, Bible stories and even Greek mythology – all needed to create those intricate designs.
This implies that history and literature were also part of a convent’s curriculum, besides the knowledge of making and mixing colours. Some convents even studied classical writers and the seven Greek Liberal Arts: grammar, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, dialectic, rhetoric and music. Less prevalent during the Early Middle Ages was transcribing. Much later, though, some convents became renewed for their libraries and their manuscripts were circulated even outside the convent’s walls.
As was expected during a time when men went
to fight wars most of the time and pursue crusades during the remainder of the
time, the need for women skilled in medicine and surgery was on the rise so
convents covered these too.
Music as part of the convent life of medieval women
Promoters of Christianity, convents taught music, chants and choir songs essential to glorifying God. But music was also the means of raising funds for the cloister through donations for benefactor’s weddings or by charming wealthy women in pursuing their intellectual interests.
According to Professor Laurie Stras from Huddersfield University, during the 15th century, 20 percent of the female population of Catholic Europe lived in convents, translating into 50 percent of women of noble birth. Saint Hildegard of Bingen, a German Benedictine abbess, author, and composer, left us 11th-century musical compositions of sacred music in the simple style of the troubadours, some of the most-recorded music of its kind in modern history.
Since convents were often self-sufficient entities, a deep knowledge of the law was needed, some abbesses proving extremely skillful on this matter.
The decline in convent life starts here
By Late Middle Ages, due to the rise in the vernacular and the apparition of castle school (in 8th century due to Charlemagne), court schools, church and village public elementary schools (seeing a rise in the 12th – 13th century), or of religious guilds (in Late Middle Ages) the academic standard of the convents lowered.
As a result, the nuns become less and less skilled in numeracies and math, thusin record-keeping and so many nunneries went into debt.
Convents – their daily rituals
Most convents followed the Rule of the
Benedictine order: daily prayers, readings, and work, the power of a nun’s
prayer often sought after and perceived as equal to that of a monk.
An abbess with absolute authority led the nuns, assisted by a prioress and a few senior nuns, obedientaries. Unlike monks, a nun could not perform a church service, thus the visit of a male priest was required. Expected to show their devotion through their simple attire, the nuns’ veil symbolised their role as “Bride of Christ”.
I hope you enjoyed this close-up in Medieval convent life and the curriculum taught. Return for the last installment of convents, the religious life Medieval women, when we will uncover a few unknown facts, some far from pretty. Why not subscribe to my newsletter?