4 out of 4 stars
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Argyll Street: One Man’s Journey from the Pit to the Front Line is a historical non-fiction novel. It is set in the time after the Industrial Revolution and is written by Jon Moorthorpe. This book is based on the life of William Gregory, who is the author’s great uncle. William Gregory, along with his family, was a resident of Lancashire, England. During those days, there were very few ways of earning a decent living, and one of them was - working in coal mines. As soon as kids turned ten years old, they were sent to work in the pits. Even though it sounds gruesome now - the way the author explains it - it was quite the norm then.
As William grew older and had his own family to support, he decided to move to Canada for better employment opportunities in the coal mining industry. In Canada, he was employed at a large pit and was provided accommodation at a bungalow on Argyll Street. He spent a few years working hard at the pit and comfortably coming back home to his family.
In 1914, a war was declared between Canada and Germany. William did not want to live in a Canada ruled by Germans. He decided to quit his job and join the army and serve Canada in the war. The book goes on to describe his training for the army and The Battle of Hill 70, which is often referred to as The Canadians’ Forgotten Battle.
The author’s descriptions of life in London are just beautiful. From his descriptions of a bar set up in their friend’s front room (where the guys gathered for a drink or two) to William’s parents’ house (where they dined and spent time comfortably) are just heartwarming. Due to this reason - even though nothing exciting happens in the book for the longest time - the readers won’t get bored.
The book is actually really slow-paced and not as gruesome as you would expect a book of this genre to be. Even the parts where the army training camps are described are quite comfortable to read. The protagonist, William Gregory, often seems like just another person in the story. This is the first book I’ve read where the author isn’t trying to highlight a person or portray an over-the-top hero. I would like to mention that this was a welcome change for me, even though some people might argue against it.
There is only one small issue I have with the book - too many characters. There are so many characters introduced at every stage of the book that this can actually become off-putting (as the readers won’t know if these characters are going to be relevant later). Other than this, I found only one minor grammatical error in the book, and it was thus quite well edited.
The character issue wasn’t big enough for me to deduct a star, hence I will rate this book four out of four stars for all its positives. I would like to recommend this book to people who like history or people who would like to know the real conditions soldiers face when countries are at war. However, if you are looking for a fast-paced book recounting a similar storyline, you might want to skip this one.
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