9 March 2017

ARCBA Book Review: Chocolate Soldier by Hazel Barker

6 - 10 March 2017

is Introducing 
(Rhiza Press, 1 October 2016)

By Hazel Barker

About the Book:
London. 1940.
When World War II breaks out and men over eighteen are conscripted, Clarence Dover, a conscientious objector, refuses to go rather than compromise his principles.  Instead he joins the Friend's Ambulance Unit.  From the London Blitz to the far reaches of Asia the war tests Clarence in the crucible of suffering.  In the end, will he be able to hold his head up as proudly as the rest and say, to save lives I risked my own?
One man will stand as God's soldier, not the war's soldier.
About the Author:
Hazel Barker lives in Brisbane with her husband Colin. She taught in Perth, Canberra and Brisbane for over a quarter of a century and now devotes her time to reading, writing and bushwalking. From her early years, her passion for books drew her to authors like Walter Scott and Charles Dickens. Her love for historical novels sprang from Scott, and the love of literary novels, from Dickens. Many of her short stories and book reviews have been published in magazines and anthologies.
Hazel’s debut novel Chocolate Soldier, and Book One of her memoirs Heaven Tempers the Wind, will be released in 2016. Both books are set during World War Two – the former in England and the Far East; the latter in Burma.
For more information, visit her blog on:

Chocolate Soldier: The Story of a Conchie

England began conscripting men into the armed forces not long after the beginning of World War Two. That placed men like Clarence Dover in an award situation: did they go against their personal beliefs and sign up, or did they do the unthinkable and register as a conchie, a conscientious objector?

Clarence chose to register as a conchie, and was assigned a place in the Friends Ambulance Unit, from where the book gets its title. The FAU was run by the Friends, better known as the Quakers, and they trained near Bournville, home of Cadbury’s Chocolate. The Chocolate Soldier is the fictional retelling of Clarence’s war, based on his real-life diaries and surviving letters. Parts of the story are also from the viewpoint of his brother and sister, Doug and Eva, and his maybe girlfriend, Mary.

The book didn’t work for me as a novel. There was no overall plot, just a series of events. There was no great character growth or change in Clarence—he acknowledges towards the end that while he has a greater appreciation of different cultures and beliefs, he remains a Christian and an Englishman. The writing focused on the retelling of facts rather than inciting the reader’s emotions (I never really felt the horror of the situations Clarence found himself in). Much of the story read more like a diary than a novel, while other parts read more like the author than Clarence.

Despite those faults, I still enjoyed The Chocolate Soldier. I’ve lived in London and met Blitz survivors (including my great aunt). My grandfather served in Egypt, and Doug’s letters show some of what he may have experienced. I’m a history buff and a family historian, and I appreciated the insight into their lives.

It’s often the details which elevate a book from good to great, and The Chocolate Soldier had details in spades. Big details, like London in the Blitz and visits to tourist attractions like the Taj Mahal. And little details, like the fact soldiers received only six weeks of training before being sent into battle, trucks running on charcoal because there was no petrol, and the Chinese eating watermelon seeds for protein. Those snippets made the story.

Recommended for those looking for a first-hand look at life in London during the Blitz, life in Colonial India and wartime China.

Thanks to Rhiza Press for providing a free ebook for review.

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