Once There Was A War by John Steinbeck
New Preface by Janine di Giovanni
First Illustrated Edition
Published 5 September 2013, £24.95
The Folio Society is publishing the first illustrated edition of Once There Was a War, John Steinbeck’s acclaimed dispatches for the New York Herald Tribune during World War II. These were ‘written under pressure and in tension’ from Blitz-ravaged London, to the Mediterranean beach conflicts and North Africa campaigns.
This new interpretation of the original, first published in 1958, contains photographs that reflect Steinbeck’s human focus: a woman applying her make-up in a bomb-damaged block of flats in London; American troops resting on the deck of a liner.
Acclaimed war correspondent Janine di Giovanni, who has reported on nearly every major conflict in Europe since the late 1980s, provides an illuminating new preface, in which she reflects on the compassion of what Steinbeck called ‘a sad and jocular recording of a little part of a war I saw and do not believe’. Like Steinbeck, her approach is to reveal the experiences of the individual.
In his dispatches, Steinbeck focuses not on military strategies but the actions and reactions of ordinary people. He describes the troops’ homesickness and tiredness, the myths, jokes and lucky charms that sustain them, and provides domestic details, such as the vegetable gardens carefully co-tended by British and American soldiers. Later, in Italy, he describes his experience of extended bombardment – the pain before the senses are dulled, the distorted passage of time and sense of unreality, the sudden compulsion to sleep. ‘Men in prolonged battle are not normal men,’ he says.