Spring 1944, the south coast of England. The Fifth Battalion, Wessex Regiment wait patiently and nervously for the order to embark. There is boredom and fear, comedy and pathos as the men – all drawn from different walks of life – await the order to move. From The City, From The Plough is a vivid and moving account of the fate of these men as they set off for Normandy and advance into France. The novel is not about the actual fighting alone; the larger part of it paints a picture of what happens in between battles and before: the training, the discipline, the boredom; about how the military machine uproots individuals, throws them together in new environments and forces them to establish new personal relationships.

The novel contains many living character sketches of seemingly quiet and timid individuals who grow in stature in the face … More

London ‘is an archipelago of life’, declares Alexander Baron in the opening pages of this novel. ‘The millions of Londoners are really broken up into tens of thousands of little clusters of life. Each is gathered round some centre, perhaps a street … Within each of these little hives people live for each other as well as for themselves, and life generates a comfortable warmth.’ Rosie Hogarth is about one such little hive in the years immediately after the Second World War. Lamb Street is a respectable, inward looking working class enclave in south Islington, close to the Angel and to Chapel Market. The novel stands out for its profound sense of place. But alongside the warmth of community is the chill of exclusion..

The ‘man or woman who tries to settle in London without gaining admission to one of these communities’, Baron writes … More

With Hope, Farewell was Alexander Baron’s first novel to explore Jewish working class life in fiction, and predated his The Lowlife, being published first in 1952. Mark Strong endures petty anti-Semitism but achieves his wartime ambition to become a fighter pilot. After the war, blighted by injury and a desolation brought on by conflict, Mark and his wife, Ruth, seek to set up home in Hackney. ‘The bombing of the East End during the war had sent thousands of homeless Jews outwards in wave after wave,’ Baron asserts in this novel. ‘They had penetrated to every corner of Hackney.’ They face organised anti-Semitism, and the climax of the novel comes amid a rally in Dalston by British Nazis, still not cowed by their co-thinkers’ war defeat.

Alexander Baron was born Joseph Alexander Bernstein in 1917 to Jewish parents. His first novel, From the City, From the … More

The novelist Alexander Baron (1917-1999) was born into a working class Jewish home in Hackney, joined the Communist Party as a young man, saw the thick of battle in Sicily and Normandy, and became one of the most admired writers of post-war Britain. His first novel, From the City, From the Plough (1948), was acclaimed as the definitive novel of the Second World War, the first of a trilogy including There’s No Home (1950) and The Human Kind (1953). This was followed by a string of novels about working class life in post-war London, including The Lowlife (1963) a cult novel for many other writers ever since. In recent years his reputation has flourished with many of his fifteen novels back in print. This is the first detailed study of the man and his work.

Susie Thomas has taught Baron’s novels for many years and is the reviews editor for The Literary London Journal. Andrew … More

London is a city of ruins and rubble: in fighting against a police state Britain has become almost a police state itself. Rationing is still in place, the black market is thriving, medical shortages have resulted in antibiotics being watered down. Though Britain was possessed of great decency there was a limit to what it might be expected to bear after suffering six years of war. The barbarities of war had changed peoples’ attitudes; nobody thought of foreigners in terms of human beings.

Lulled by a series of swift and sure dissolves, in an apparently orthodox romance of Irish immigrant life in post-war … More

The Kindness of Women continues the story of Jim, the young boy whose experiences in Japanese-occupied Shanghai were described in Empire of the Sun. It follows his return to post-war England, setting his childhood in the context of a lifetime. Jim tries, and fails, to find stability as a medical student at Cambridge, then as a trainee RAF pilot in Canada.

Having finally settled into happy family life, his world is ripped apart by domestic tragedy. He plunges into the maelstrom … More

OTD in 1945, there was an unexpected landslide victory for the Labour Party. The result of the election came as a major shock to the Tories given the heroic status of Churchill, but reflected the voters’ belief that the Labour Party were better able to rebuild the country following the war than the Tories.

For over a hundred years, the British Labour Party has been a bastion for working class organisation and struggle. However, … More