The Valley Under the Cross, by David Bruce
I’m not entirely sure why I decided to read this book. Or rather, I am sure, but in hindsight I don’t know why it seemed like a good idea. Every year or so, my secondary school sends out a newsletter to all of its alumnus. Mostly full of obituaries, old photos of the school, and updates on what various graduates are doing now, in the most recent issue there was an excerpt from an edition of the school magazine from 1950, celebrating the publication of one of the Old Boys’ début novel. The book is described as being the story of what would have happened in the Oberammergau Passion Play had been performed during the Second World War, rather than being postponed as it was in real life. Having a passing interest in the story, I decided, on a whim to buy it for cheap online.
There are a lot of flaws in the book; the plot is appalling clichéd and formulaic all the positive characters are practically sanctified already, all the antagonists are evil (apart from the one morally ambiguous character the protagonist falls in love with), women are not Nazis, even when they are, and most of all the writing is abrupt and lacking in subtlety.
That said, is it right to criticise this book for that? There is a historiographical debate known as “Presentism“, which basically states that you can’t necessarily judge people in the past according to today’s morality. Usually it’s applied to atrocities like Slavery, but I think it’s actually applicable for this book. As much as I’d like to condemn this book for the faults listed above, am I really justified in criticising a book written in the 1940s for an unbalanced portrayal of Nazis? I should be thankful that it does actually depict any Germans in a positive light. As for the quality of the prose? Well, it was hardly high class literature in the first place, and just because it’s dated, that shouldn’t draw further criticism.
But somehow, I can’t help myself. I suppose I might have enjoyed it better if it had been written today and thus was more in line with today’s literary techniques, (oh, and if my copy hadn’t been missing 20 pages in the middle! The fact I was able to finish the book does say something about the formula I suppose) but I might not have done.
However, one thing does strike me, which is the fact that (unless anyone reading this inexplicably feels inspired to seek out this book), I’ll probably be one of the last person ever to read it, which feels quite odd really…