The Devoted by Jonathan Hull
2012 Dancing Muse Press
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)
" ... a compelling, complicated and true-to-life novel that becomes something of a cross between old world romance and World War II historical.
This book has some rare and beautiful gems ... detailing (sometimes poetically) the nitty-gritty aspects of war along with subtle nuances of love.
This ... grand story is full of tragedy and passion, political upheaval and death, and moral conundrums ... less a true war story and more a unique family drama -- made more charming by the vagaries and power of love and relationships, and bonds that make life worth living." (Bookreporter.com)
From wartime Italy to the American West, Jonathan Hull takes readers on a heartrending passage through the lives of three families torn by history and bound by an unshakeable—and at times forbidden—devotion.
Ryan Brooks never forgot the powerful hands that pulled him from the wreckage of his parents’ station wagon that summer in 1960 when he was ten and his childhood came to a fiery end during a family vacation. Thirty years later, Ryan returns to Wyoming to thank the dying rancher for saving the life he is still trying to be worthy of. The chilling sight of Mike O’Donnell’s deeply scarred hands is just the beginning of Ryan’s journey as he soon finds himself caught between the rancher’s captivating—and married—daughter, Shannon, and his mysterious Italian wife, Alessandra.
When Mike’s deathbed confession sets Ryan on a search for the truth of what really happened the day his parents died, he unearths a long-buried secret that leads to a mountain cave in Northern Italy and Alessandra’s dangerous love affair with a haunted young German soldier. As past and present collide in an intricately woven story of love and redemption across generations and continents, Ryan discovers that the answers he seeks are inscribed deep in the heart of those whose lives—and courage—he must measure against his own.
Reading slumps. We’ve all been there, struggling to find the next great book to pull us out of our misery. We blog about our unfortunate situation, pleading for suggestions to rid us of the mediocrity of our recent choices. We commiserate with those in similar funks, offering suggestions to break free from the endless cycle of dull, boring books. But how often do we blog when we’re on a roll? When we read book after book that exceeds our hopes, satisfies our longings, and hits our Top Ten lists? Not very often, I’d guess.
Well, I’m on a roll and I owe it to Dewey’s Read-a-Thon and Jonathan Hull. I began Mr. Hull’s recent novel, The Devoted, a few days before the Read-a-Thon began and wound up spending the majority of the day of the challenge curled up in my husband’s comfy leather chair, drifting back and forth between a ranch in Wyoming and a mountain community in Northern Italy. I could not stop reading, nor did I want to. I fell under the author’s spell, sharing his characters’ sorrow and heartaches, just as I did many years ago when I first discovered another wonderful book entitled Losing Julia.
Losing Julia is one of my all-time favorite novels and Jonathan Hull’s first novel. I first discovered the book in 2000 and was mesmerized by the beautiful prose, interwoven plotlines and heartbreaking love story. It is one of the loveliest wartime novels I have ever read, right up there with The Book Thief. Yes, I know. "Lovely" and "wartime" hardly belong on the same page, let alone the same sentence, but Hull (and Zusak) has such a way with words. Here are a couple of my favorites from Losing Julia:
Last night I dreamed that I met a young boy who told me with the saddest eyes that he was never born and I asked how could that be and explained very slowly and quietly that his father had died at the front. And then I looked behind the boy and I saw hundreds of thousands of children, just standing there. Infinitely mute.
It is said that life is too short and that’s quite true, unless you are lonely. Loneliness can bring time to its knees; an absolute and utter standstill.
I’ve always judged places and times by how lonely they felt. The entire Midwest, for example, strikes me as horrifically lonely, Indiana more so than Wisconsin and Wisconsin more so than Ohio or Illinois. Coasts are dependably less lonely than inland areas while the warmer latitudes are noticeably less lonely than the colder ones. Hardware stores feel lonely while bookstores do not. Mornings are lonelier than afternoons, while the hours before dawn can be devastating. Vienna is lonelier than Paris or London, while Los Angeles is lonelier than San Francisco or Boston. The Atlantic Ocean is lonelier than the Pacific while the Caribbean is not lonely at all.
And then there are nursing homes.
I was thrilled to receive a copy of The Devoted from the author and am happy to report that it is just as wonderful as Losing Julia. I marked a few passages, but even taken out of context they reveal too much, so I’ll let you discover them on your own.
Final Thoughts: I reread Losing Julia with my book club back in 2001 and it was just as wonderful as the first time around. The Devoted does not disappoint and I look forward to revisiting this new story in the coming years. The Devoted (and Losing Julia) will appeal to fans of Markus Zusak, Kent Haruf, Leif Enger and Mark Spragg.
About the Author:
A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, Hull spent ten years as a correspondent at TIME, including three as the Jerusalem Bureau Chief. His reporting has ranged from the Gulf War and the Palestinian uprising to presidential politics and the troubled underside of American society. A cover story he wrote on youth violence won the Society of Professional Journalists’ prestigious Sigma Delta Chi award for magazine. The best-selling author of Losing Julia and The Distance from Normandy, lives in Sausalito, California.