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Beating for Light by Geoff Akers

Beating for Light

Historical Fiction   Biography / Autobiography   The Real World   World War One Literature   
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A convincing and impressive fictional account using known facts, to portray the life of Isaac Rosenberg, a poet and painter most famous for his provocative poems from the trenches in World War One. The author portrays a socially inept and awkward Rosenberg with a hidden inner core of strength and an ability to see beyond the obvious, to voice thoughts and feelings hidden from the readers comprehension until exploring his work. Although detailing the entirety of his short life, it’s the stark reality of the trenches that’s the real eye-opener, leaving you with the question of what happens to creativity when it can’t continue to comprehend the brutal reality of war. Containing excerpts of letters and poems, this moving book helps to create a link, a connection, a bond to Rosenberg and this eloquent story deserves to be heard. ~ Liz Robinson

For a taste of some World War One poetry from the trenches by Isaac Rosenberg then a great place to start is His Selected Poems and Letters.


Beating for Light by Geoff Akers

It is the summer of 1917. Isaac Rosenberg has been on the Western Front for over a year, having barely survived a terrible winter on the Somme. Temporarily attached to the Royal Engineers, he helps to load barbed wire on limbers, hauls it by mule train up to the front at night, and repairs damage to barricades in no-man's land. Although highly dangerous, Rosenberg views his lot as much improved, and he finds more time to write.

From his upbringing in the slums of Whitechapel, to his futile death in the killing fields of Europe, the author explores the evolution of a writer whose war poetry is now widely acknowledged as among the finest ever written.

Paradoxically, while Rosenberg's physical and mental health were on the wane, his terrible experiences on the Western Front appeared to boost the power and originality of his work. Throughout the novel, the reader is given insight into the troubled psyche of a poet who, despite living in constant fear and subject to the contempt of his peers, still managed to retain a highly original perspective on mankind's descent into darkness.

Beating for Light blends fact and fiction in a way which moves beyond the biographical, breathing life into the fears and aspirations of a great artist while, simultaneously, providing a fascinating insight into one of history's greatest watersheds.

Below is a Q & A with the author about this book.

What inspired you to write Beating for Light?
I studied Isaac Rosenberg's war poetry while at university and was struck then by the power of his imagery. Unlike officer poets like Wilfred Owen and Seigfried Sassoon, Isaac was a lowly private and had never received the acknowledgement his work undoubtedly merited. Years later, I returned to the subject and decided to put matter right.
So you decided to write a book about the man and his poetry?
Yes. I wanted to show how hard Rosenberg had struggled for the sake of his art. His life was tragic and sometimes he was his own worst enemy, but his determination and grit shone through. It's really a cracking good story!
How important a part does his poetry play in the novel?
It is significant but you can simply enjoy the novel as a story charting the poet's journey from his unpromising Whitechapel beginnings, to his untimely death on the Western Front. Beating for Light deals with the universal "Pity of War" something everyone nowadays can appreciate.
How can you write a fictional novel about a real person?
As long as you do your research properly and base everything on fact then the rest can be powerfully portrayed by the imagination of the author. In my experience, this is often much more cogent than biography. Pat Barker did it in Regeneration and Margaret Atwood in Alias Grace to name but two.
Who would you recommend Beating for Light to?
To anyone who rates poetry as an expressive and exciting medium and to people who enjoyed books like Birdsong and All Quiet on the Western Front."


"A great theme and taut story telling: I much enjoyed it." - Andrew Marr

"Isaac Rosenberg was one of the great soldier poets of the First World War. Unlike Siegried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Edmund Blunden and Robert Graves, he was not an officer but a private soldier. He was also Jewish. He died obscurely in the German offensive of March 1918. I hope that this illumininating book will restore him to a deserved position of homour and equality with others." - Martin Bell

"This is a powerful and very moving account of the life and death of a Jewish poet who had already suffered so much and then joined the army only to experience the horror and brutality of the trenches, dying there as millions did.....The novel tells us so much about persectution and despair in the life of one very talented young man, cut down before his full talents could be developed and recognised." - Tony Benn

"Akers performs a double service. Historical novels if they are to be of any greater merit than the Archers, must tell something of a person or period we don't know already. Akers paints a vivid picture of Rosenberg the person... it is a good story well told..." - Scotland on Sunday

"It would be churlish to criticise the legacy and achievements of the great war writers and poets such as Wilfred Owen and Robert Graves but Rosenberg's poetry deserves the same status. Akers' elegaic biography of the young poet includes much of his work. Hopefully, this powerful retelling of the story of a Jewish man who died at twenty eight will elevate his status." - The Herald

"Geoff Akers’ novel tells the story of Isaac Rosenberg, one of the lesser-known but more interesting poets of the First World War. The novel is well-researched and vividly imagined. A great number of Rosenberg’s poems – and some poetic fragments - are given in the novel, and these make his death at a young age all the more poignant.

This is an extremely well-written and worthwhile work that will appeal especially to those readers who have found tragedy and beauty in Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong or Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy. Like these other novels, Beating for Light makes us realise that war – with all its waste, horror and futility - has, too, a human face." Review by Paul Kane

About the Author

Geoff Akers

Geoff Akers was born in Peebles, Scotland in 1954, and studied at Aberdeen University where his interest in modern history and literature was fostered. He became particularly interested in poetry written during the First and Second World Wars and focused his honour's dissertation on the work of Wilfred Owen and Isaac Rosenberg. He taught English, History and drama for over fifteen years before giving up to become a full-time novelist. To date, he has written two novels - including, Beating for Light and a number of short stories. He is currently writing a third novel centered on the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict.

Geoff is married and lives in Edinburgh.

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Book Info

Publication date

16th January 2006


Geoff Akers

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Juniper Books


311 pages


Historical Fiction
Biography / Autobiography
The Real World
World War One Literature

Historical fiction



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