The Blitz: Background information when reading Life After Life

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Life After Life

by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2013, 544 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2014, 560 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Stacey Brownlie

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Beyond the Book:
The Blitz

Print Review

St. Paul's Cathedral surrounded by smoke in December 1940A significant and arresting section in the second half of Life After Life occurs during the period of the German bombings of London during World War II known as "The Blitz." This period between September 1940 and May 1941 was a time of fear, destruction and collective British determination. The nickname comes from the German word "Blitzkrieg" meaning "lightning war." The Blitz followed Germany's unsuccessful attempts, between July and September 1940, to weaken or eliminate the Royal Air Force's ability to defend Britain - a period known as the Battle of Britain. During the Blitz, bombing raids instead focused on civilian and industrial targets in London and other cities. It is estimated that over 40,000 civilians were killed, with many more injured, and over one million British homes destroyed.

Children in an eastern suburb of London made homeless by the BlitzHistories and summaries agree that the ability of the citizens of London and other targeted cities to maintain collective morale was key in the overall fate of the country in the war. This so called "Blitz Spirit," though likely exaggerated and glorified over time, disappointed Germany's hopes of crushing the English via personal and individual loss. The establishment of a Civil Defense system was a large part of the reason British communities did not completely crumble. The reliance of volunteers and specifically women volunteers in the system was remarkable. Air Raid Patrol wardens were some of the most essential and endangered of these volunteers. These ARP wardens experienced battle-like circumstances as they directed, organized and rescued during the intense bombing and its aftermath.

Kate Atkinson's depiction of these civilian warriors in Life After Life is clearly based on careful research and is all the more potent as a result.

Photo of St. Paul's Cathedral standing amidst the smoke from the Blitz, in December 1940. Photo of children in an eastern suburb of London, rendered homeless by the Blitz.

Article by Stacey Brownlie

This article was originally published in April 2013, and has been updated for the January 2014 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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