In his largely autobiographical The Other War (Cormorant Books, 281 pages, $16.95 paper), Geoffrey Vitale, a London-born professor and journalist, writes about the experiences of nine-year-old Jerry Mansfield. Jerry is one of many children evacuated from England's industrial centres during the Second World War. He is sent to Wales to live with a kind coal-mining family, but this pleasant arrangement doesn't last, and he is transferred to live with the harsh Mrs. Rhys in the same town. When he discovers that she is not only keeping the money that his parents are sending him, but that she isn't even giving him their letters, he rebels by setting a room of her house on fire. As a result of this act, he is transferred yet again, this time to St. Bridget's, a home for delinquent boys.
With each transfer, Jerry's life gets worse, but the story, for all its Dickensian elements-humiliation, taunts, and beatings, sadistic teachers, malnutrition, and deprivation of all kinds-seems oddly without fictional purpose. As a record, a memoir, a "bearing witness", it is useful; as a novel, however, it remains uncompelling.