By Geoff Dyer Vintage. 157 pp. Paperback, $14.95

The Missing of the Somme,” by Geoff Dyer, is as elegant and poignant as it is slim. A Briton who has won many awards for his writing, Dyer has a knack for merging genres and narrative styles, from literary portrait to travel writing to reportage. This time he weaves together observations from his visits to World War I memorials with examinations of the war’s poetry and photography.

A meditation on fallen soldiers leads to personal reflections, such as one about a grandfather who survived but who, according to family lore, enlisted underage. When Dyer gets hold of his grandfather’s death certificate, however, it disproves the story.

‘The Missing of the Somme’ by Geoff Dyer (Vintage)

Dyer explores a wide expanse of European countryside to commemorate “the nameless names” of the missing. In lucid prose, he contemplates the terrible deaths of the war and offers them fresh and much overdue attention, including those from the battle of the Somme itself, fought in 1916 by the British and French against the Germans in north-central France. Reflecting on what was destroyed and injured in the battle, Dyer writes, “The passion for Remembrance — for building memorials, for recording the names of the dead — can be better understood in the wake of such destruction. Solace and comfort can be found in the capacity of ruins to survive the human tragedies they result from and record.”

Alexander Heffner



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