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While the Gods Were Sleeping is a novel about the magnitude and impact of the First World War, the recollections of which are recorded in the notebooks of the elderly Helena. The young Helena is sent to her uncle’s country house before the war, and from here she witnesses scenes of indescribable horror. But it is also where she meets Matthew again, a British Army photographer who she goes on to marry. This is a story not about spectacular events; rather, Mortier is concerned with writing about war, history and the past with great empathy and engagement, and with a mixture of melancholy, qualification and resignation.