Monsters of Blood and Honour Ken Catran, Random House, 239 pages, paperback, NZ$19.99
Ken Catran’s latest book contains three novellas about the Second World War. In each a modern teenager learns of the experiences of an aged survivor. As always with Catran, the technical detail is rich and the emotional level is set high. In Mr Parkin’s Milk Run to Hell, Jase, a fast-driving hoon is surprised to find that old Fred Parkin had helped create a firestorm over Hamburg when he was only 18. Was burning civilians a war crime? Similar moral issues arise in Jooney’s Day at the Beach, when Sarah reads her Great-Aunt Jooney’s account of Japanese troops shooting nurses and patients after the fall of Singapore. Sarah is baffled by the way Jooney – the sole survivor – can feel sympathy for one of the Japanese involved in the atrocity.
The most controversial (and least successful) of the stories, Old Goodey and the Fortress of Dreams, brings an unrepentant old Nazi into contact with a disturbed teen, Robin, who has fantasies of using a tank to shoot everyone in their home town. Then he finds that an elderly local has concealed his past. Goodey is virulently anti-semitic, an SS member who fought in the great tank battle at Kursk and was then a concentration camp guard at Belsen. “I thought those things were right and I still do,” says Goodey before creating his own Gotterdammerung. Although Robin’s response to Goodey’s death is muddled, he does dispose of Goodey’s SS dagger with its “blood and honour” motto. He climbs down from his clifftop refuge, symbolically rejecting his earlier violent fantasies.
Catran is aware that it is always difficult for one generation to understand the experiences of another. These short and lively first person narratives certainly make a good starting point for young readers who are coming to grips with some of the human complexities behind the battles.
This review was first published in The Press, Christchurch NZ, on 15th March 2008.