11 June 2012

Alexander Baron: There's No Home (1950; repr. 2011)

Alexander Baron (1917–99) was a Jewish writer brought up in Hackney, London, and is perhaps most remembered for his London novel The Lowlife (1963). He also wrote three war novels: From the City from the Plough (1948), There's No Home (1950) and The Human Kind (1953), the second of which was published last year by Sort of Books.

In the Afterword to this edition, John L. Williams, who was a friend of Baron's, suggests that one reason Baron's wartime books are now far less known than, for example, Evelyn Waugh's, Graham Greene's, or Olivia Manning's is because Baron's interests are more in the infantrymen than the officers. I think this is largely true because canonical works of this sub-genre tend to foreground the upper social echelons. The two principal characters in There's No Home, however, are Sergeant Joe Craddock from the East End, and his lover Graziella from Catania, a poor town in Sicily.

Baron served in the Eighth Army, and for a few months was garrisoned in Catania, an experience from which he evidently drew in writing this novel, although how much is autobigraphcial is unknown: the inside cover, for instance, shows a photo of an unknown Sicilian woman which was found in Baron's pesonal papers. There's No Home isn't a war story but a love story to which war, although creating the conditions for the central story, otherwise largely forms the backcloth, and the emphasis is on the effect that the soldiers have on the people in the town – and one soldier on Graziella in particular.

Mutual exploitation is ubiquitous, and sex is a vital commodity. The main love (as opposed to lust) interest in the novel is of course between the two main characters, and it is of note is that Baron was interested in the 'Woman Question', and his feminism is clear in his depiction of Graziella: she is definitely more sympathetically portrayed than Craddock.

Surprisingly honest and insightful, and surprisingly fresh.

Alexander Baron: Rosie Hogarth

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