Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
2016 Simon & Schuster
Finished on September 27, 2016
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)
From the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Little Bee, a spellbinding novel about three unforgettable individuals thrown together by war, love, and their search for belonging in the ever-changing landscape of WWII London.
It’s 1939 and Mary, a young socialite, is determined to shock her blueblood political family by volunteering for the war effort. She is assigned as a teacher to children who were evacuated from London and have been rejected by the countryside because they are infirm, mentally disabled, or—like Mary’s favorite student, Zachary—have colored skin.
Tom, an education administrator, is distraught when his best friend, Alastair, enlists. Alastair, an art restorer, has always seemed far removed from the violent life to which he has now condemned himself. But Tom finds distraction in Mary, first as her employer and then as their relationship quickly develops in the emotionally charged times. When Mary meets Alastair, the three are drawn into a tragic love triangle and—while war escalates and bombs begin falling around them—further into a new world unlike any they’ve ever known.
A sweeping epic with the kind of unforgettable characters, cultural insights, and indelible scenes that made Little Bee so incredible, Chris Cleave’s latest novel explores the disenfranchised, the bereaved, the elite, the embattled. Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is a heartbreakingly beautiful story of love, loss, and incredible courage.
One of my favorite subjects to read about is fictional accounts of World War II. Just this past year, I read City of Thieves (David Benioff), The Storyteller (Jodi Picoult), and The Nightingale (Kristin Hannah). I loved each one, not only for the well-drawn characters, but for the light they shed on specific areas of that terrible war that I had not encountered in other books. When Chris Cleave's latest novel was released, I was intrigued. I enjoyed his bestseller, Little Bee (reviewed here), and so I had high hopes for another outstanding book about World War II. It took me a while to get interested in the story, but I was eventually drawn in, once the relationships between the three characters were established. While not as good as the above mentioned novels, I enjoyed the book and came to care about the characters and their sad predicaments, particularly those of Mary and her students.
On the children of the war:
Since Mary must neither bump into her mother nor anyone who conceivably might, she had a day to fill on her own. Autumn had come, with squalls of rain that doused the hot mood of the war. She walked along the Embankment while the southwesterly blew through the railings where children used to rattle their sticks. In the playground at Kensington Gardens the wind scoured the kiteless sky and set the empty swings rocking to their own orphaned frequency.
How bereft London was, how drably biddable, without its infuriating children. Here and there Mary spotted a rare one whom the evacuation had left marooned. The strays kicked along on their own through the leaves, seal-eyed and forlorn. When she gave an encouraging smile, they only stared back. Mary supposed she could not blame them. How else would one treat the race that had abducted one's playmates?
They leaned shoulders companionably and looked out to sea. Perhaps it was true, thought Alistair, that Septembers would come again. People would love the crisp cool of the mornings, and it would not remind them of the week war was declared. Perhaps there would be such a generation. Blackberries would ripen, carefree hands would pick them, and jam would be poured into pots to cool. And the jam would only taste of jam. People would not save jars of it like holy relics. They would eat it on toast, thinking nothing of it, hardly bothering to look at the label.Final Thoughts:
Alistair let the idea grow: that when the war's heat was spent, the last remaining pilots would ditch their last bombs into the sea and land their planes on cratered airfields that would slowly give way to brambles. That pilots would take off their jackets and ties, and pick fruit.
It took me a while to get interested in this novel, but once I did I was hooked. The ending felt somewhat anticlimactic, but I can't explain what it was I had been hoping for. All in all, a worthwhile read. Recommend.