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Testament of Youth

Narrated by: Sheila Mitchell
Length: 23 hrs and 54 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (7 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

This classic memoir of the First World War is now a major motion picture starring Alicia Vikander and Kit Harington.

In 1914 Vera Brittain was 20, and as war was declared she was preparing to study at Oxford. Four years later her life - and the lives of her whole generation - had changed in a way that would have been unimaginable in the tranquil prewar era.

Testament of Youth, one of the most famous autobiographies of the First World War, is Brittain's account of how she survived those agonising years; how she lost the man she loved; how she nursed the wounded; and how she emerged into an altered world.

A passionate record of a lost generation, it made Vera Brittain one of the best-loved writers of her time and has lost none of its power to shock, move and enthral readers since its first publication in 1933.

©1970 Mark Bostridge & Timothy Brittain-Catlin, Literary Executors of Vera Brittain (P)1998 Isis Publishing Ltd
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  • Sara
  • 15-01-2016

Old Favorite With Issues

I read Testament of Youth and Testament of Experience in print ages ago and loved them both. This edition is accompanied by introductions and explanations from the author's daughter and the author herself. I was excited to have an audio version of the book and looked forward to a long happy listen.

My problem lies in the fact that the narration makes the author sound like a haughty arrogant very old dowager. The listening is tough going as Mitchell, the narrator, allows her voice to drop off at the end of sentences and rushes through the cumbersome and complex ornate prose. This mix makes hearing what is being read difficult and understanding the words at times almost impossible.

This book was first published when the author was in her late 30's looking back at her experience of life before WWI and the impact the war had on her generation. The voicing the narrator uses sounds too old. I had come to think that this was the only voice Mitchell was capable of--then at the two hour point when the journal entries entered the picture--she switched to a young woman's voice for these portions--so this elderly voice seems to have been a choice. What a shame, because the younger clear voice made the elderly voice even worse by comparison.

I think the problem lies in that the author's intro for the 1970's edition was written when Brittain was 80 years old. It seems that production for this recording assumed the whole book should be voiced by an eighty year old instead of the age Brittain actually was when the book was written. This error makes listening to this recorded version impossible for me.

If you read the reviews on Amazon for the print edition you will find an even bigger debate going on over the content of the book. Reviewers sounding off, arguing about and judging what Brittain says--not how the narrator voices the story. To me, this is a book from history and about the author's personal thoughts, beliefs and perceptions. You may find many of her assumptions offensive--but I think they represent the culture of the time. I do agree with several reviewers in that Brittain was very contradictory in her opinions and to me that just exposes the "youth" from the title of the book.

This book is still an excellent look at one person's experience of WWI--even with its flaws. However, the unfortunate narration makes it impossible for me to hear and understand the words. Listen carefully to the sample before you decide and keep in mind that the actual narration is even worse than the sample suggests.

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  • Kris
  • 01-03-2018

Couldn’t even finish

Made it through only five chapters. Somehow the character is still bogged down whining about feelings of inferiority at Oxford while simultaneously giggling over her new boy crush. Mistakenly thought this was a gritty WWI memoir.

The narrator completely ruins it as well. Sounds like a 2-pack-per-day smoker. She also either drops off completely at the end of her sentences or drops her voice so low she can’t be understood.

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  • TiffanyD
  • 05-12-2018

Testament Of More Than Youth

If you really want to get a sense of the utter loss and devastation wrought by WWI, you'd be hard pressed to do better than to read this memoir. Just be prepared for death after death after death. There's more to the memoir than the war and I admit that I wasn't as interested in the build up and the follow-up as I was in the war years section. The build up is of course necessary to understand the depth of the relationships and the therefore the depth of the loss. And I think the follow up was just as important to understand how the survivors did their surviving. Still, the pages dedicated to the war itself were the most gripping. Ultimately a Testament of and to so many things: youth, tragedy, grief, surviving, sacrifice, and one of the ever greatest follies ever perpetrated by those in power. #WWI

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 01-12-2018

Great book!!!

It was an amazing read! Loved it so much. I couldn't stop listening! What an awesome experience.

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  • Kelly
  • 19-11-2019

incredibly intimate glimpse into life during WW1

I went into Testament of Youth blind. I knew nearly nothing about the book, up to and including the fact that it was a memoir of WW1. I would not have read the book if it wasn't chosen by my Reading the World group, but I am so glad that it was because the book is phenomenal.

My family is a big military family. All of us have served. I am a USAF veteran as is my dad. All of my uncles were in the Army. My brother served in the Marines. I have a nephew who is currently in the Coast Guard, and my grandfather served on the battlefields of WW1 in Europe. I know very little about his experiences as he refused to talk about it to anyone. This month I feel like I learned far more about him because I read this book and All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. In combination I got a very extensive insight into that era.

But for this book the part that most touched me was her feminism. She was a strong, smart, compassionate woman who believed that all women should have the same opportunities in life as men did. And she was fighting for those rights 100 years ago. I admire her.

The early part of the book explored her youth, prior to WWi. She wrote about it with such vivid imagery that it felt like being there and really knowing it. This section allowed me to get to know her as a character, and it also gave me insight into the societal changes that were occurring in Europe. And the examination of how family life was different from the norms of today was very eye-opening. She wrote about the lack of privacy for women and girls, and how they were never allowed to have moments alone. This section is where we start to get an inkling that Brittain is not the submissive girl she is expected to be and that she will be a woman we can all respect.

Brittain became a VAD nurse at only 18. She fell in love (more than once). She lost lovers and a brother to the war. She saw PTSD up close. She understood and explained the war in a way that allowed me to also understand it. And although she explains the war era with a quiet resolve and little emotion, there are moments when she allows her hatred of the war to show.

"I wish those people who write so glibly about this being a holy War, and the orators who talk so much about going on no matter how long the War lasts and what it may mean, could see a case--to say nothing of 10 cases--of mustard gas in its early stages--could see the poor things burnt and blistered all over with great mustard-coloured suppurating blisters, with blind eyes--sometimes temporally, sometimes permanently--all sticky and stuck together, and always fighting for breath, with voices a mere whisper, saying that their throats are closing and they know they will choke.

And the book does not end when the war ends. Brittain allows us to see what post-war life looks like for her. She allows us to see the changes that war has made to her. And, for me this was the most successful and powerful part of the book. It is the section that most solidified my hatred of war. This is where I found my grief and compassion for my grandpa, who is long dead.

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  • Julia
  • 12-03-2016

Almost impossible to listen to

Is there anything you would change about this book?

The book is really fascinating and I think I will have to read it instead of listen to it. The writer comes across as arrogant, self obsessed, pompous, pious and extremely unlikable but I think this is due to a horrible narration that makes her sound dry and remote.

Who was your favorite character and why?

As this is an autobiography it is rather odd to consider "favourite character" - this book is about real people and their real lives and deaths not about "characters".

Who might you have cast as narrator instead of Sheila Mitchell?

Juliet Stevenson or any other decent actress with a voice that varies in tone and texture and brings life to a story - Sheila Mitchell kills it dead and makes it such a difficult listen.

Did Testament of Youth inspire you to do anything?

Go and read the book and dump the audio! It did make me think about the state of the world - about war and power and how those who want peace are ridiculed, marginalised and sometimes even punished. It did inspire me to reflect on vested interest and how the powerful abuse their position - but the dreary narration mostly inspired me to go and listen to anything other than this.

Any additional comments?

What a waste! Such a good and worthwhile book with such depth of feeling, intelligence and poignant interest turned into a long drawn out drone - read the excellent review on audible.com for a more detailed dissection of how this narrator gets it so wrong and read the book don't bother with the audio it becomes actually painful after several hours listening and is long in any case. HORRIBLE narration - excellent writing - a good book massacred and some dreadful pronunciation too - don't the editors EVER correct these narrators when they repeatedly mispronounce basic words to such a degree it grates. This is badly done and I will wish for someone to re-do the whole thing.

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  • Ms
  • 14-09-2016

A Masterpiece

I was forced to read this book for English Literature A Level 30 + years ago and hated it. I was however, 17 and had little life experience. Unlike the young Vera Brittain, who is put in a situation of sink or swim. She chose to swim. I was as an A level student not particularly interest in the pain and suffering of others. Now, as I have lived my own life and worked as a Nurse for many years, this book came to life for me.

The book starts before the outbreak of the Great War and explores women's - 'not quite equal' relationship to men. Remember though, that Brittain is from an upper class family and would not experience the oppression of that of a working class woman. On the contrary, she is relativity privileged. Even so, she eloquently objects to her father 'why can't she go to Oxford when her brother is allowed'.

Later the book tells of her romance with a friend of her brothers, whom she falls madly in love with, but who is sent off to war as it starts. She joins the Nursing team of the Volunteer nursing core and from hear we enter into a story of repeated heartbreak as VB looses her lover, her brother and her closest friend.

So, this time round, I loved and devoured this book with the wisdom I did not hold at 17. lest we forget the great war and the human sacrifice. The book is beautifully narrated and is full of insightful notes of wisdom and philosophy that can only come about through the experience of pain.

I give it a 5 * recommendation as I have been deeply touched by this prose.

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  • Kim Allyson
  • 25-02-2016

a moving insight to living through immense tragedy

learning how to forgive yourself for surviving, whilst accepting that life and love moves on

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  • K. J. Noyes
  • 23-01-2019

Powerful and effecting memoir.

Powerful and effecting memoir, a timely feminist read.

My mum has been persuading me to read this for at least twenty years. For some reason, I never did. I knew the story, and saw the recent film last year, and decided it was time, with the commemorations for the 100 years since the end of the First World War, to pick this up.

Though I decided that the style of this would suit an audio-read, and downloaded the Audible (24 hour) version. Though this did take me nearly a fortnight to listen to, I was engrossed in the early 1900s world of Brittain's youth.

It's just heart-breaking, listening to Vera as a mature adult look back at the world of 1914, at her own diaries, letters and poems from the time the world changed forever.

Knowing what was going to happen, it didn't lessen the pain I felt for Vera as each death occurs, seeing her continue to live, seeing her as typifying the experience of so many others.

Testament of Youth takes us from Vera's middle class adolescence as she grew up amidst the years of Women's Suffrage and struggled to earn a place at Oxford to the years of the War and beyond.

The experiences are so vivid, Vera's time nursing, with honest appraisals of the systems, people and behaviours. Quite eye-opening, seeing as Florence Nightingale had revolutionised nursing not too long before.

I cried a few times, there are such moving letters between brother and sister, an incredible relationship kept up even in a war. And I really felt for the young Vera and the naïve outlook that her older counterpart looks back on with a world-weary air. This is very-well conveyed as an audiobook with the narrator giving the Vera of 1914-18 a different voice and air to that of the older woman. The style of writing suits an audiobook perfectly as well, as the writer is addressing her reader directly making it very easy to follow aurally.

Enjoyed the 'post' war parts slightly less than Vera's WWI experiences, but I did like seeing her views on the suffrage movement and how women's rights and treatment in society altered after 1918.

A very important book, written for the ages, will not fail to impress itself upon you.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 14-12-2019

Memoir as riveting as any historical novel

Enjoyed this memoir very much for both it's intimate personal perspective and historical commentary. I found the readers clipped British accent difficult for my American ear.

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  • iona
  • 29-01-2019

Beautiful and deeply touching

Beautifully read, deeply touching I have listened to this many times, least we not forget what they all went through.

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  • TAG
  • 21-09-2018

Voice of a generation

This was wonderful. I fully understand why this is thought to demonstrate the variety of experiences of the young people in WWI. Britain’s story is unique, but the scale of change and personal trauma she live through is not. The first 2 thirds of the book are particularly compelling accounts of trying to coordinate leave with loved ones and the superstitions that crept into everyday life. The final third deals with life after the war, which initially I was less interested in. I’m glad to have read it though as it covers a period most media ignores - the anguish of finding a new normal; learning that the war time children didn’t understand what their seniors had gone through; ultimately coming to accept that life was worth pursing despite devastating personal loses.

The style of writing is very much of its time and combined with the heavy topics and long chapters it can be a bit of a slog in places. I chose to listen to this on and off over the course of a couple of months.

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  • Michele A Walsh
  • 02-03-2018

Fascinating Memoir

Narrator was perfect. Anyone interested in the history of modern women, feminism, and WWI should read this book. Lengthy and still worth every hour of listening.

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  • Ant Heald
  • 12-10-2016

Emotion recollected in perspicacity

This is a life-changing book about a changed life.

The expert narration of Sheila Mitchell brings the vivid and brilliant mind of Vera Brittain into the sharpest mental focus, and this voice from a dead past speaks the words of the dead into present that needs - perhaps, sadly, will always need - to hear the lessons of history. Her near future failed to heed them; I fear the voices of the Great War through which she lived and suffered are needed as much as those of the subsequent conflict that Brittain's commitment to internationalism could not prevent. From out of those two disasters we have built, in the west at least, structures that have prevented, for the most part, the return of those conflicts for a period that has extended long beyond Vera Brittain's own life yet to which now we seem bent on turning our backs.

Vera Brittain's emotional and intellectual acuity and conviction has steeled my own resolve to be on the side of the right, even if I fear I may not be in the right side of history.

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