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by Pat Barker

Regeneration is the first novel in Pat Barker's brilliant Regeneration Trilogy. It is based on a real encounter between Siegfried Sassoon and Dr Rivers, a distinguished neurologist and social anthropologist.

In 1917, Sassoon was sent to Craiglockhart military hospital by the authorities to avoid court-martialling him after his anti-war protest. The prolonged war and the massive casualties had prompted him to write a Declaration protesting against the continuation of a war in which so many of his beloved men were being sacrificed in vain. This had been read out in the House of Commons and published in the Times. Dr Rivers was charged with treating Sassoon to restore him to sanity, yet it is Dr Rivers who is changed by the experience.

Barker draws us into the strange world of the military hospital. Here are the living casualties of the trenches: prematurely aged men with tics and twitches and stammers, men who are unable to speak and men who vomit every time they try to eat. Central to the novel is the journey of Dr Rivers, a humane and compassionate man who finds himself in conflict with the values that are integral to his background and upbringing. The encounter with Sassoon forces him to question those values and confront the central paradox of his work - that a 'cure' for his patients entails making them fit for almost certain destruction back at the front.

Regeneration is a compelling read, involving and moving. It is also a subtle discussion about the morality of war and a graphic portrayal of the toll on the human spirit for those who are sent to fight.

Read our interview with Pat Barker.


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