War graves

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

“An astounding piece of literature that delves into the depths of so many topics that are important to our society”

Genre: Autobiographical / Non-Fiction


In 1914, 20 year-old Vera Brittain was preparing to study at Oxford when war was declared. Four years later, her life – and the lives of her whole generation – had changed in a way that would have been unimaginable in the tranquil pre-war era. One of the most famous autobiographies of the First World War, Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth is an account of how she survived and endured those agonising years, how she lost the man she loved, how she nursed the wounded, and how she emerged into an altered world.

Why I love it

Whilst this may not be considered to be the most uplifting novel to read during the current crisis, that’s precisely why I decided to read it. This book is a reminder that we have been through tougher times, not just as a nation, but as the whole world together. Although we didn’t come through the War completely unscathed, we came through nonetheless. Brittain’s plans, hopes and aspirations in life were deferred or altered entirely because of the war. While she was initially saddened, angry and disappointed, she soon realised these were events beyond her control, and she adapted and pursued an occupation that was far more rewarding.

This is not a light-hearted novel by any means, and it is so desperately tragic to read at times. Although an introduction (not written by Brittain) opens the novel and informs you of some key events in Vera’s life, I was still nevertheless shocked when I read those key events from her perspective. It was like I was reading them for the first time, which made me feel all the more sad for and sympathetic towards her. It’s utterly heartbreaking to witness Vera’s friends being picked off by the war one by one. Her strength and faith to keep going when she was surrounded by so much death is astonishing, but hugely inspirational.

Her writing is so wonderful to read; she goes into so much emotional depth and thoughtful consideration of a variety of issues, from the war itself, to women’s rights in society, to writing and the difficulty of getting published, to her and her fellow youths as part of the “lost” generation. Despite being written in 1933 about the War which ended over a century ago, Vera’s autobiography still resonates incredibly strongly today.

Overall, Testament of Youth is a heavy and emotional, but inspiring book about a catastrophic event that changed the world and everyone in it forever. It’s an astounding piece of literature that delves into the depths of so many topics that are important to our society today.

Why you should read it

Every adult should read this book. It’s incredibly eye-opening about an aspect of the First World War that is almost invisible. We know about the various battles and conflicts that took place, but the work of nurses is described in great detail.

Rating: 5/5

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