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Despite the critical acclaim that greeted subsequent books and a legion of admirers that included the Nobel laureate Doris Lessing, he has been largely out of print in the UK. He died in Now his war memoirs are to be published in English for the first time, along with his complete works — eight novels and two non-fiction books. Curiously the memoir, entitled Shrapnel: Tales Not Told, had been quietly published only in Polish, in the country where he had somehow retained popularity.
It includes memories so painful he could not share them with his four children. Among them was his indirect involvement in killing German prisoners of war in his charge. He writes: "I still have a hard time facing up to it inside myself.
I want to tell it as honestly as possible. He could not believe it had languished forgotten for so long. Having joined the army after school, Wharton survived D-day and the long campaign across France and the Low Countries, despite being seriously wounded in the Battle of the Bulge.
In , aged 53, he published Birdy, a Kafkaesque story of a wounded soldier, traumatised by the war, who takes refuge in the world of birds, prompting the British writer John Fowles to describe him as "exceptionally gifted". Two other novels were made into films, one with Jack Lemmon. When he became a publisher, he resolved to bring the neglected writer to a new generation. I was scared, miserable, and I lost confidence in human beings, especially myself.
There are many things that happened to me, and because of me, of which I am not proud, events impossible to defend now; callousness, cowardice, cupidity, deception. He describes a German pulling out his family photo and crying.
He writes: "Some of [the Americans] are feeling guilty about it all, but the worst of them are proud of themselves, consider themselves avenging patriots. Not many authors have three films made from their books. He eschewed the literary celebrity thing, which was not his personality at all. The film was fortunate enough to get a prolonged standing ovation.
Sitting next to me, he was most embarrassed at the success.
William Wharton (author)
Birdy is a gifted youth obsessed with birds and flying and raises pigeons and canaries. Alfonso, his best friend, is a child abused by a gruff father. He channels his anger into playing sports, at which he excels, and beating people up, at which he also excels. Both share a strict Catholic school upbringing that neither seems to take too seriously. In the novel, both are narrators and the setting is a military mental hospital in Kentucky where Birdy has been confined after suffering trauma fighting in the Pacific Theater in WW II.
William Wharton Biography