Why can’t we stop reading/writing about WW2?

I have spent the past six years of my life studying the six years that preceded my life, which means I have been writing and reading about World War Two. A decade ago, with story ideas jelling in my mind, I tried to pull the narrative forward into my lived experience but the war—that war—WW2—would not let me go.

I was conceived in August 1945 in the days between Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the formal surrender of Japan while the staggering horrors in Europe and Asia were being uncovered and documented. Nine months later I was born into my father’s family homestead in Montana, a brown-eyed child in a blue-eyed family. They call my mother a gypsy, though her dark hair and eyes are Sami/Swede. It is spring 1946, and 500 colonies of bees are making Baldwin & Sons Beeline Honey. I am laid out on the greening lawn, baptized by my grandfather, a Methodist parson as well as beekeeper. That autumn I am carried East for my father to start graduate school. We enter the myth that the war is cleanly over. The Marshall Plan has kicked in. The United Nations is chartered. America is the most benevolent “victor” in the history of the world.

In the early 1950s, LIFE magazine published a Pictorial History of World War II. It weighs over five pounds, is fourteen inches along the spine: a coffee table book left on our coffee table. As though reading by brail, my small fingers brush over photographs of death camps, emaciated populations, exhausted soldiers. I study these scenes and the faces of those standing in them. Questions wake in me that accompany me all my days: How did this happen? What in human nature allowed such horrors?

And these very days, while I type in the safety of my island home watching autumn leaves drift off my neighbor’s maple tree, similar horrors are being repeated in Ukraine, Israel, and Gaza, in more African countries than I know to list, and in uncountable pockets of violence. I still ask: How does this happen? What in human nature allows such horrors?

At its essence, story is how we make meaning of life. Story is how we link one human experience to another and weave our narrative threads. Story is how we learn vicariously. Story illuminates human circumstances and allows us to imagine what we would do. Writers and readers know that imagination increases empathy, resilience and capacity to act in real life. Story matters, and what stories we tend to matters.

In the middle of writing my novel, taking place 1941-1943, I asked several friends why they keep reading about this time period. One said, “The nature of good and evil seems so much clearer. These stories inspire me to see how ordinary people can become extraordinary in the cruelest situations.” Another said, “My father died without telling me his story of the war, so I extrapolate it from books. Through reading, I can grieve for him.”

And why did I write about WW2?

Because I believe that they/then have something to teach us/now about the getting through chaotic times. I focused on the Homefront because most of us live away from actual battlefields but are compelled to pay attention to images of suffering and raw story unspooling in real time. In this immediacy, we (or at least I) experience vicarious trauma without story’s meaning-making perspective. In the early 1940s, the US was madly shifting from Depression era isolationism to global leadership and fighting force. The outcome of the war was uncertain.  It was, in the living of it, a far more volatile, strenuous, and tenuous transition than myths have made it. In life, and in my story–

  • People are fighting fascism with the belief it can be eradicated from the world.
  • The community faces real issues of injustice simmering under settlement of the West.
  • The war’s pressures, realities, and suffering intrude on their personal lives.
  • They must decide how to work together despite all differences.
  • They deal with eruptions of violence, evil, murder and secrecy.
  • They are wounded and healing. They make love and babies.
  • They leave their unsung courage like seeds in the ground for us to harvest.

So maybe I read and write about WW2 because the story is so huge, encompassing so much human and inhumane experience that we haven’t been able to make meaning of it. And maybe because “the war” isn’t over but has splintered into the conflicts that surround us today casting its shadow of horror and the light of human spirit.

New York city is home to the largest Jewish community of any city in the world—larger than the combined populations of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Mid-October 2023, my book, The Beekeeper’s Question, is sitting in the inboxes of fifteen NY publishing house editors. I can imagine their paralysis to face everyday work: I feel that paralysis in myself. We are in global crisis. We cannot foretell what happens from one day to the next. We are caught in narratives with no idea of the climax, or how the situation will resolve. Yet, story is a map and the story that gets one person through helps to get the next person through. I hope the tale of the beekeeper’s family may find its publishing home and take up its task to help us map pathways through the immediacy of life in the now.


“The dark around us, come,

Let us meet together here,

Members one of another,

Here is our holy room.”

Wendell Berry




Road Trip: Hello Again, Hello.

We are a community of readers, writers, storycatchers, and commentators on the day to day.

Welcome and thank you to the many people who signed up to receive this blog off my new www.christinabaldwin.com website. Over a hundred names have flooded in from the last posting and I am delighted that so many people, whose names (or email monikers) I don’t know, and with no idea how you “found” this blog want to join the growing list. This is a thoughtful community and I hope you will make a comment, pass along the post, and take these words into the story streams of your own lives.


June 1-15, 2023, Ann Linnea and I made our first long road trip in eight years. Our trusty 2011 RAV4, purchased to make a rite of passage camping trip when our grandson, Jaden, turned ten, is still the vehicle that carried us through the western coastal states of Washington, Oregon, and California, to Jaden’s high school graduation and back! There’s more mileage on the car, more years on the grandmas, and more to think about venturing out of our usual island routines into the ongoing story of “what is happening to/in America.”

What determined the route was the memorial in Sonoma County for our dear colleague, Deb Greene-Jacobi, the chance to visit long-time friends in the same area and end up in Culver City to support Jaden in his launch toward college, and his parents and sister reconfiguring to support Sasha through her teen years. Where there is good love, there is foundation for good life.  The lovely people stories are living in my heart. This blog is a reflection on what it meant to be on the road.

What replenished us: awe at Nature’s beauty and her resilience to keep working with/around/despite all human interference and interaction. We drove by all seven volcanoes that form the PNW link in the ring of fire. We

Sister Sequoias.

walked in Redwood groves with trees older than white presence on this land. We marveled at the massive presence of Sequoia. We walked alongside bubbling mud and melting snow in Lassen Volcanic NP. And because of the wet winter, everything was still green, blooming. Hundreds of miles of oleander growing on the median of the interstate—such generous plants to transmute exhaust fumes into blossoming beauty.


What we thought about: monoculture agriculture, the stress to the land of food production and our shock to find rice paddies, olive groves, almond orchards in the northern California

Rows of citrus orchard outside Fresno.

drylands. Seeing where foodstuffs I take for granted come from, and the scale of water use and production necessary to keep the grocery shelves stocked, changes how I handle everything in my kitchen.  Everything comes from something: life is chain-linked, cyclical, interconnected. All products, edible and not, represent a huge donation of resources, industry, and people laboring in the system. Workers bending over in the fields, truckers carrying boxes of goods mile after freeway mile, workers stocking stores, etc. etc. I know all this. I’m an educated person. I read books and articles. But to SEE it, to be immersed in the agricultural heart of California for days of driving, followed by the rangelands of dairy farms, cattle ranches, sheep on hillsides, and chicken barns is to be reawakened to what it takes to keep even my “simplified” modern life going.

What we noticed: America is not the same. The vibe has changed since we were last on the road. I fear this polarization in which ordinary people are manipulated into deeper and deeper divisions. To accomplish our

Bumpersticker that made me cringe.

Bumpersticker that made me think and smile.

heartful mission, we two grandmas traveled through a social field of increased aggression, intolerance, threat, and despair. There are fundamental signs that America is not okay: Gun toting in public. Drug use on street corners. Tents and tarps and people begging. Flags in which each star is a skull, each stripe an automatic weapon. Society is a fragile arrangement, and when people are in crisis, society is in crisis. The divides are more obvious—not just bumper stickers and flags, but who the system cares for and who it does not.

Now what:  We traveled 2838 miles (4567 kms).  We had incredible moments with people and nature, seeded conversations that are growing in ourselves and others. We come home even more aware of the vulnerability of all things. We come home determined to keep making a difference at any level of scale we can: how we tend our own garden, buy from local farmers, bicycle instead of drive, befriend the folks around us, stay social, engaged, grateful, humbled, determined to continue threading sense through these turbulent times. Grief and gratitude are two sides of a spinning coin. Perhaps they cannot exist without the other.

Whidbey sunset from the edge of our neighborhood.








PS: I know Ann is posting a blog about the graduation: check out www.annlinnea.com to read that part in depth.