Elizabeth Day’s quiet, moving novel about war and recovery tells the stories of soldiers who come home and those who do not. One who doesn’t return is a young man who died in the Sudan. His parents, Caroline and Andrew, edge apart as they mourn him in their own ways, unable to connect in their coping, unable to rearrange their lives to account for his loss. Intruding on their grief is Andrew’s ninety-eight-year-old mother Elsa, helpless after a stroke, silently trapped in her own memories. Key in her life was her father, who returned from the Great War a fearful and broken man, carrying a heavy secret. To her, he’s a stranger. To her mother, he’s nearly so. Though Elsa’s father, unlike her grandson, returned from war, the recovery of everyone around him is no less difficult.
This is not a happy book, especially not with the scraped-bare realism Day creates. It’s heartbreaking and frequently uncomfortable. But her characters, struggling and fallible, are written with such sensitivity. Through them, she offers great respect for soldiers, families, and the ravages of war on both. The story of Elsa and her parents, in the years following the Great War, was especially poignant to me. Three characters, grappling with the shadow of war in different ways, trusting in themselves rather than in each other. Stark details, delicate and unflinching prose, all sketch a picture of two families trying to redefine life after war.
249 (US), 246 (UK)