Tuesday, July 19, 2011

REVIEW: Duty Calls: Dunkirk by James Holland

Now here's a really great book. Duty Calls: Dunkirk by James Holland is such an interesting and realistic portrayal of WWII seen primary from the eyes of 16 year old soldier, Johnny Hawke.

When I was younger, I had this fascination with WWII but for some reason I never really looked into books about the soldiers on either side or the battles that they fought. I think I've felt intimdated in some way about descriptions of battles, weaponry or locations. After reading Duty Calls: Dunkirk, I can't think why.

James Holland made all of the historical detail blend very naturally into the narrative of the story very quickly I became fascinated to learn more about a soldier's life. Holland gave a brilliant look at every aspect of this one group of soldiers. Through the eyes of Johnny Hawke, the 16 year old who followed in the footsteps of his brave father and his older sister's fiance, Sergeant Tom Spears, in the army, we are introduced to Hawke's daily life. The food, the stops for tea, the battle dress he wears, some of the weaponry. We witness how difficult he finds writing home, how much he looks forward to news of home, how he feels after he kills a man for the first time.

I became very emotional reading Johnny Hawke's story. As he is so young, other members of his company look out for him as well, in particular Sergeant Spears. While our main narrator is Hawkes, we are able to see other points of view - that of a pilot engaged in battle with the Germans, some of the higher-up commanders in the British army and of Tom Spears. The pressure that Spears feels towards protecting the soldiers in his command and that of Hawkes is quite moving. He comes across as quite cold and aloof, but really feels very strongly about looking out for Johnny.

This book is very readable and I flew through the pages with ease. The fighting is quite exciting but never romanticises war in any way. Though there are some brave fighting going on, there's also the lice in the clothing, there's gruesome death, it's quite apparent how lack of communication has a severe impact on this group of soldiers.

It's quite heartbreaking to read. I became very emotionally attached to both Hawkes and Spears and as the pace quickened towards the climax, we are made more aware of the dire circumstances that these soldiers are facing - the enemy is closing in around them, and that they are on the front line of what appears to be a losing battle, with little food, ammunition and losing hope.

This book is quite exciting to read, very interesting and I look forward to reading more from the author!


  1. Sounds like a great book, I can imagine how emotional a read it must be. I might have to give this one a go.

  2. Jenni - It's really good! I was surprised at how well it was able to grab me and have my emotional investment into the story and the characters. I did feel a little embarassed that I had NO CLUE about anything regarding the Battle of Dunkirk though, so absolutely everything that happened was a surprise.


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