The Last Day
Of the War
Judith Claire Mitchell
(Pantheon)The year is 1918. Young American ladies are enlisted by the YWCA to go overseas to cheer up the soldiers, make them sandwiches, make them laugh, make them dance.Yael Weiss of St. Louis joins up. She is eighteen but she tells them that she's twenty-five, that her name is Yale White, that she speaks French. She ends up in Paris and falls in love with Dub Hagopian, English-French-Armenian translator at the Peace Conference.Dub's family suffered as all Armenians suffered in the 1915 massacre at the hands of the Turks. When he isn't busy translating or getting his hands on and up Yale's stockings, Dub and his friend Raffi are stalking a Turk who is hiding in Paris, one who was responsible for many of the massacres.They are pledged to find him, and they are what nowadays we call "terrorists." Or "counterterrorists." (It all depends which side you are on.)
Whatever it's called, it isn't much of a job. "His reasons for hating it were no different from anyone else's."
He resented competing with other eager young men for the best assignments. He disliked spending so much time with co-workers not of his choosing, not to his taste. Plus, the hours were long, the pay inadequate, and the tasks he performed boring and repetitive.Woe the poor terrorist.
Yale doesn't care what side Dub is on. She just wants to be conquered. "She is aware that her surrendering does not involve any initial resistance on her part. There was no initial warfare, not a single attempt at self-defense. How, then , can there be a white flag?
In fact, all she wants is for him to take more territory, if you will. Has there ever been such a phenomenon? A vanquished country begging its conqueror, Please, have a little more. Please, help yourself. Please, for the love of God, use the other weapons in your arsenal.
All this is certainly enough plot to weave a complicated story, but, improbably enough, it's sufficient to create an interesting, hard-to-
put- down book. Why does The Last Day of the War work? Because Mitchell knows how to do plot and character (she came out of the Iowa Writer's Workshop), and, after we give her sufficient pause to boot up the plot-line, she knows how to move it along smartly, even though the fun begins only after everyone gets to France.
And oh the details. Paris is fat with love and revolution and revenge and passion. The whores come in from the country: mostly women whose husbands died in WWI, leaving nothing for the farm and the babies. Tourists swarm to the "front," to goggle the trenches and shell-holes where three million young men were eviscerated, gassed, killed. There are the secret meetings of the Council of Four, where arbitrary decisions precurse yet another war, a mere two decades in the future.
Then there is the little matter of the continuing blockade of Germany, where children are dying on the streets (we wonder where German enmity for America came from so many years later). "When will the blockade be lifted?" asks a German representative. "No food, milk, or medicine. German children are literally dying in the streets."
"There are no plans to lift it, I'm afraid."
"And how much will reparations amount to in the end?"
"The Americans say twenty-five billion. We say one hundred. The French say two hundred..."
"Very well, I shall report that the British are four times as mad as the Americans, but only half as mad as the French."--- M. W. Dillard