Study Guide

Life After Life War

By Kate Atkinson

War

"Austria has declared war on Serbia," Hugh said conversationally and Margaret said, "How silly. I spent a wonderful weekend in Vienna last year." (6.51)

Before the outbreak of World War I, people in England don't seem to be concerned about the war reaching their shores. They don't think that war in another country could possible affect them.

"It may be the only adventure I ever have," [Hugh] said. (6.117)

Hugh enlists to fight in the war not for any political reason, but for "adventure," as though it's Indiana Jones summer camp and not a life-or-death global conflict.

Izzie never mentioned her baby. He had been adopted in Germany and Sylvie supposed he was a German citizen. How strange that he was only a little younger than Ursula, but, officially, he was the enemy. (6.148)

War can turn families against one another. This isn't quite American Civil War-caliber stuff, given that Izzie's child was adopted by a German family, but it still makes you wonder what might have happened if the two ever met while their respective nations were at war.

The Armistice seemed to have made Sylvie even more despondent than the war. ("All those poor boys, gone forever. The peace won't bring them back.") (9.34)

There's a double irony here: It's peace that makes Sylvie really realize the horrors of war. And, although the Todd family doesn't suffer much during the war, it's Armistice Day that brings death to their doorstep—when Bridget attends, she brings back a virulent flu that wipes out most of the kids. (Ursula later strives to fix this.)

"It's vile. It makes me so cross. Going to war is madness. Have more cake, why don't you?" (21.101)

Pamela's quick about-face from war to cake, while not only yummy, also signifies the futility some people feel in the face of war. It's not like there's anything she can do about it, so she might as well try to enjoy life while she can.

"We didn't used to know where Czechoslovakia was, did we? I wish we still didn't." (22.7)

How many countries did you learn about the existence of simply because they were at war, either with another country or with your own? Lots of our everyday geographic knowledge comes from war.

"It promotes peace and understanding between young people. No more wars." (24.11)

The hindsight irony here is so bright it's blinding. Mrs. Brenner is talking about the youth groups set up by Hitler—yes, that Hitler. Instead of "no more wars," these groups lead to the war to end all wars. If they promote peace and understanding between young people, they also promote hatred and intolerance toward everyone else.

Pamela, even at a distance, was the voice of [Ursula's] conscience, but then it was easy to have a conscience from a distance. (24.72)

Although Pamela never crosses into Tumblr armchair slacktivism, she often passes judgment on situations that she hasn't lived through. Ursula gets a different view of Germany when she actually lives there during the war.

[Ursula] thought she would never get over that first terrible incident, but the memory of it had already been overlaid by many others and now she barely thought about it. (25.36)

War is one atrocity after another, and whenever Ursula thinks she's seen everything, something worse trumps it.

War did indeed make strange bedfellows of people. (25.334)

People meet in strange ways during the war, and they're often looking to forget something traumatic or vent frustration in fear, so they take the term bedfellow literally. War can be a turn on in the weirdest way.