When I’d finished reading ‘Sebastian’ by Christoph Fischer, I was grateful for two things: that people still write about dark periods of our history with such quiet emotion, detail and research – and secondly that the sense of the era was so compellingly conveyed. I have always viewed WW1 in lightless photographs, and believed everything at that time was in monochrome. But the author brings clarity to this colourless time by emphasizing the effects of war on the microcosm of the family in a way that is identifiable for the reader. We understand the time and events through people.
From the book cover in those deeply WW1 colours to the fact that Sebastian loses his leg as a child well before the war, prepares us for what is to come. Sebastian cannot go to war because he has lost a limb but thousands come back from the trenches without theirs. There was loose disintegration of the family before the war and mild insertion of prejudice – reflecting the imminent breakup of Europe and eventual outpouring of nationalism, racialism and religious intolerance. And Sebastian, wounded even before he could go to war, learns that being a man is not about killing but loving; about coping in the face of adversity and measuring up to responsibility.
Sebastian’s family – our little blueprint of human relationships and power struggles – perseveres through change, loss, love, squabbles and betrayal to find their own way to peace. War will never diminish us because the human spirit is at its most indomitable during times of trouble. Like Sebastian, we are enabled more by challenge than a comfortable life. In a story of war that is beautifully told with gentleness and empathy, we see that endurance is a matter of ordinariness – and war fails in the face of family and love.
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