“My life flashed before my eyes.” You can find that phrase anywhere—and curiously, it is always written when something goes horribly wrong in a story. But if it is so common, why is a description of “my life” never written? What would it include? Dinner? Sleep? Well, here is your answer at last.
Private Peaceful, by Michael Morpugo, is a story about the life of Thomas “Tommo” Peaceful. Tommo has one night left, and deep down in the trenches of World War I, he remembers every moment of his eighteen years of life. Sad and grim, with unique characters, Private Peaceful is a book—or a life—to remember.
There are two worlds in Tommo’s life: his war world and his home world. Somehow, both become infused with sadness—a sadness that creeps into every hidden nook and cranny—and then explodes. The first explosion comes at home, when Father dies, and then a dog’s death, Molly’s affair, and World War I. And of course the creeping, crawling sadness is everywhere in the war world. And then the sadness changes: it becomes grimmer, colder, harder. As Tommo describes the greedy rats, the vicious lice, the cold mud, and the harsh orders, you set your teeth and brace yourself as if you were in the trenches too . . .
In Private Peaceful there were extraordinary characters with strong personalities in both worlds. At home, there is Joe, big and friendly and unusual. Although disabled, Joe is that little bit of happiness in this story. Even though his signature is a large, inky thumbprint, for me his signature is “Oranges and Lemons,” the comforting song he sings day in and day out. In the trenches we meet another (despicably) unique character: Sergeant “Horrible” Hanley. This nickname is no misnomer. Sergeant Hanley is the harshest, most loathsome beast in the animal kingdom. And in the end, he leaves us readers with a smarting wound in our hearts.
Private Peaceful was a sad wonder. It is a must-read to anybody who enjoys tragedies and World War I stories; however, anyone can appreciate this book. When you read it, your life will flash before your eyes, but with unexpected pleasure.
You can buy this book here.