Timothy Findley's Governor General's Award-winning novel of the First World War tells the story of Robert Ross, a sensitive nineteen-year-old Canadian officer who reacts to the horror and dehumanization of trench warfare with an act of treason that could also be interpreted as a life-affirming deed of heroism and love. Findley recounts the childhood and young manhood of Ross, who is born into a wealthy Toronto family and joins the Canadian Field Artillery in 1915. The novel's unique vision is presented through a narrator who, working from photographs, clippings, letters, and interviews, tries to understand what kind of man Ross was. As an intermediary between Ross and the reader, the narrator narrows the gap between past and present, allowing Findley to foreground the process - and difficulty - of writing historical and biographical narratives.
The Wars (1977) vividly evokes the sheer carnage and waste of the Great War, with its ritual sacrifice of youth, beauty, and goodness; the novel also juxtaposes military and domestic wars in its examination of gender conflict and the sexual battles which rage in the Ross and d'Orsey households. The Wars movingly chronicles, with its many shifts in perspective, time, and mood, the shaping of a mature and intelligent adult who rejects - with a decisive act the world chooses to name madness - the madness of war. The work has been translated into nine languages and is the basis of a 1983 film directed by Robin Phillips.