THE BLIND, THE BRAVE, AND THE CELTS
My Eyes Have a Cold Nose. By Hector Chevigny. (Michael Joseph, 12s. 6d.).
War in Val d'Orcia. By Iris Origo. (Jonathan Cape, 10s. 6d.).
Once Only. By Roy Neil!, (Jonathan Cape, 10s. 6d.).
Floskring Dusk. By Ella Young. (Dennis Dobson, 15s.).
Reviewed by WILFRID LEY MOST people in England have heard of " The Seeing Eye " and will be anxious to learn more about it. It is an American institution which trains dogs to look alter the blind and the blind to work with them. The training is elaborate and takes a considerable time but the result is extraordinarily effective. Hector Chevigny describes it in detail in My byes Have a Cold Nose, a book that should attract every type of reader. A successful radio script writer, he lost his sight with the best years of his life still before him. The question of adjustment to this calamity at once arose and with it, as the months wore on, the whole problem as to how the blind should be treated by society. Should they be pitied ? Decidedly not, says Mr. Chevigny. The blind man tapping along the pavement with a tin can for coppers and a legend " Pity the Blind " is a symbol of the way the blind should not be regarded, namely, as tragic figures for whom nothing can be done. Mr. Chevigny was determined to take up his old life again and succeeded in doing so. He shows how with a proper psychological approach to the matter together with scientific physical training such an adjustment is within the reach of the majority of the blind. He is writing entirely on the natural plane and inevitably underrates the Christian attitude of resignation; but surely, if only as part of the psychological approach, such an attitude should be very potent. The book is so well written and the cause of the blind so convincingly argued that few readers will be willing to put it down.
War in Val d'Orcia is a heartening book. It brings with it a breath of Italy-not the Italy of the cities but of the countryside to whose brave and devoted peasantry it was published as a tribute. It consists of the diaries of the English-born Marchesa Origo during the terrible months from January, 1943 to June, 1944 when the remote farm in the Val d'Orcia where she and her husband were living became a haven of safety for British prisoners of war, Austrian deserters, Italian partisans, Jews fleeing from persecution and bombed-out townspeople from starvation. She lived in hourly peril all the time and the fact that she should have written up a diary day by day-in itself a most dangerous thing to do-shows what a solace the pen can be to one who is by nature a writer. The diaries are not touched up in any way; they are published exactly as they were
written. The penalty for nearly everything she did was death. It
became a matter of course to wake up in the morning to such news as that " there are some Germans in the courtyard and an English prisoner in the garden." The prisoner would have to be hastily smuggled away " in the garden room where I do the flowers or in some other hide-out. " What a life you do lead ! " exclaimed a Tommy on one occasion. She did indeed; and it reached its climax when M June, 1944 the farm came under direct fire and its occupants. 60 in number, decided to make a dash for it. With shells bursting round them they
trudged the whole way to Monte
pulciano; it took them hours. There were 28 children among them, four of them in arms. (Incidentally, the Marchesa's second daughter, Donata, was horn during these events.) Six days later they were rescued by the Scots Guards-her own cousin among them. If the loyalty and courage of the Italian peasantry come out well in these pages, as certainly they do, the reader will be in no doubt that it is the author herself who is the heroine of the story. But she is far too modest to suggest it. Speaking of the humble Italian folk and giving instances of their compassion and of what she calls the "shared, simple acts of everyday life " she says wisely that these are the realities on which international understanding can be built. " In these," she says, "and in the realisation that has come to many thousands, that people of other nations are, after all. just like themselves. we may perhaps place our hopes." For breath-taking excitement and for a revelation of human nature at its best this book can be warmly commended.
A rather different type of war book is Roy S. Neill's Once Only. The author, who was with the 8th Army, was captured at Tobruk and eventually taken to Austria to be imprisoned in Stalag XVIIIa, near Graz. It is the story of his escape from a working camp attached to that prison. No such escape story can fail to be gripping, and its younger readers will be attracted by a certain schoolboy gusto. a naivete even, with which it is told. But Mr. Neil would have done better to keep clear of politics. They are out of the picture. especially as he had no opportunity of forming an opinion of his own on the respective merits of Michaelovich and Tito. (Much of the book is concerned with his adventures with the Yugoslav partisans.) What he has to say on these matters is secondhand, but it occupies only a few moments of the book which, as a thrilling tale of courage and invention, should make a popular addition to any school library. Flowering Dusk is a book for those who are interested in what is called the Celtic Renaissance. It is a hundred per cent. Irish-but only in the sense that it is full of fairies, of ghosts, of dreams, of mythology, of legends, of the make-up in general of the Irish Literary movement. How far that Movement represents the real Ireland is not for the Saxon reviewer to decide. He may have his doubts. The author, Miss Ella Young, is undoubtedly both poet and dreamer; she tells of her girlhood in the south of Ireland and of her subsequent life in America-, great familiar names flit through the pages: Pardraic Collins. William Butler Yeats, George Russell. James Stephens, many others; there is plenty of politics, including a vivid account of the " Easter Rising " of 1916.
The Press the Public Wants by Kingsley Martin, (Hogarth Press, 7s. 6d.) contains much excellent fact and comment on the organisation, management and aims of the British Press to-day; it paints some lines of inquiry which might well be followed by the Royal Commission; but ends with the suggestion of ownership by public corporations that many will find an intolerable invasion of that freedom of the Press it sets out to defend. It opens with a crass piece of anti-Catholic prejudice.
Happy Rabbit. written and illustrated by Eileen Soper (Macmillan, 65.), is a charming nursery book which has the right proportion of " pictures" and " reading "-that is about three to one. The pictures are really amusing, too.