“I recently made a foray to the upstairs library in our old family farm, where generations have left their favorite books behind. I picked up ‘The Enemies of Women’ by Vincente Blasco Ibanez, printed in 1920, just after World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic. Interestingly, the latter isn’t mentioned in the book. The war, however, is referenced throughout from the perspective of an ex-pat Russian aristocrat living in Monte Carlo. The book is a slog at times, but captures the confusion of monarchies being challenged by unprecedented internal changes. Of particular interest is the skepticism with which the European ruling class viewed the United States mobilization efforts. Never before had great armies been raised without conscription, unless it was to defend one’s homeland.

“The last chapter of the book describes the entrance of the United States onto the world stage as witnessed by a grateful Europe. The aristocrat, who eventually joins the French Foreign Legion, muses that ‘The American combatants fought for simple and robust ideals: the rights of the weak to live, the dignity and freedom of mankind, the elimination of wars, understanding between peoples, sovereign right ruling the life of nations; things which shortly before had made the Old World skeptics smile.’ A little further along, he notes that ‘(The United States) formed a world apart within the world. It might, without suffering, isolate itself from the rest of the Globe; but the world would feel a sensation of emptiness if the Great Republic were to turn its back upon other nations.’ Again, this was written by a Spaniard in 1920!

“The world is connected in so many more ways today than it was back then, but that first step by the U.S. onto the world stage was undertaken with great enthusiasm in spite of enormous sacrifices. This book provided a good counterpoint to the continuous depictions of disaster in the nightly news. It was a reminder that ‘patriotism’ has not always meant me-first nationalism.

“This wasn’t meant to be a political statement, but, reading it again, perhaps it is. My grandfather, Jack Berry, went to Canada to get into World War I, before the U.S. declared war, and flew Sopwith Camels for the Royal Canadian Air Force. Different times…”  —ELLEN MCADAM, McDougal Orchards, Springvale

What are you reading?

Mainers, please email to tell us about the book on your bedside table right now. In a few sentences, describe the book and be sure to tell us what drew you to it as the pandemic – and its ripple effects – recede (at least we hope so). Was it a need to escape, a need to dig deeper? Something else? Send your pick to [email protected], and we may use it as a future Bedside Table.

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