Lucia’s War

Written by Lanigan Susan
Review by Waheed Rabbani

At the Royal Albert Hall in 1950 London, famed soprano Lucia Percival, grieving over some news, declines to appear at her concert. At the bar, a music critic wants to interview her. Lucia agrees and starts by telling him, “Did you know I once sang Wagner to a roomful of Nazis?”

In 1917, young Lucia had arrived in London from Jamaica. Unable to enter the music business, she joins the Voluntary Aid Department (VAD) and is deployed to France’s World War I front. There, she falls in love with a surgeon. Lucia would suffer the repercussions of that affair throughout her life. Returning from France to the UK, Lucia faces insurmountable obstacles. She takes odd jobs but practices her voice, even on the train to work, where she is discovered. She is tutored by a Black artist on her road to fame, yet with a pain in her heart.

Although this novel is a sequel to Susan Lanigan’s acclaimed White Feathers, it can be read as a standalone. While white feathers are mentioned, their significance is apparent. This rags-to-riches story of a Black singer might seem similar to the experiences of some present-day artists, but its setting in the difficult post-WWI period makes it unique. Lanigan, writing in Lucia’s first-person voice, has admirably captured the racial prejudices and the hardships faced by Black youths, particularly in the UK. Lucia takes the racial slurs, as well as the advances from lecherous men, in stride and never shies away from hard work. The snippets of Jamaican-English slang add flavor to the dialogue. The use of secondary characters like Lucia’s brother and their white girlfriends adds depth to the story. It’s evident that Lucia would have spent the period during WWII up to 1950 as a singer, but it’s not included here; maybe this will be covered in another sequel.