4 out of 4 stars
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Family dynamics, poverty, abuse, prejudice, faith, and war are all elements of Battles Forgotten: Afrique du Nord by George Vardaman, Jr. The timeframe of this historical fiction are the years between WWI and WWII. The main story follows two brothers from Texas as they grow from boys to men and serve their country as top mechanics of US fighter planes for the Army Air Corps.
Gordy and Callum Ward grew up in poverty. Their father, Eli Ward, had been a successful insurance salesman but neglected to provide insurance to protect his own family, so when he passed away, he left his family in poverty. Mary Ward (called 'Mary mother' by her kids) could not support five children and two brothers on her own, so she split the family up. She sent the two youngest children to an orphanage, the middle child stayed at home to help their mother, and Gordy and Callum went to live with a half-brother who abused them with beatings daily. Out of desperation, they joined the National Guard at the age of fifteen and sixteen to escape.
Gordy and Callum were both hard workers and intelligent. They eventually became the top mechanics for the US Army Air Corps, responsible for the aircraft's maintenance and training of new mechanics. Gordy and Callum sent most of their military pay back home to their mother and some to the orphanage, where their two younger siblings lived. They stayed together for a while until Callum got transferred to California. Gordy eventually ended up at Maison Blanche in Algiers.
Vardaman has crafted a tale of the forgotten battles of WWI and WWII and the years in between. The characters are endearing and well-developed. The author's various stories told about each character are sometimes humorous and mostly heart-warming, even though they revolve around severe poverty, war, and the Great Depression. The book highlights Gordy's and Callum's military service intertwined with their mother, siblings, and uncles' stories. The back and forth between civilian life stories and military life stories can be confusing at first until the reader understands the author's pattern.
What I enjoyed most about this book was Gordy's and Callum's dedication to their family. They did not always agree with their mother's decisions regarding their younger siblings, but they were respectful of her choices and strong Baptist faith. My least favorite part was how Mary placed her two youngest children in an orphanage while she took care of her two brothers, Laurence and Conn, at home. I felt her loyalty to her brothers over her children was misguided. Also, the ending was abrupt and left me with many questions.
Some typos, mainly involving missing or misspelled words, were noted, but they don't interfere with the story's flow. There are detailed historical facts woven into the stories showing evidence of the author's research. Overall I found Battles Forgotten by George Vardaman, Jr. to be a pleasant read. It was professionally edited and had just enough humor and historical facts to keep me involved until the end. Therefore, my rating is 4 out of 4 stars. I recommend this book to historical fiction lovers and anyone interested in the world wars and the Great Depression eras. There are no controversial aspects to this book, such as strong language or sexual content that would make it unsuitable for anyone in the general public.
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