A story of love, loss, and courage

childrenWhen I began writing SECRETS OF CHARMED LIFE a couple years ago, I had only the vaguest of notions of how much London suffered during World War II. Here was a city teeming with civilians – mothers, pensioners, children too young to be evacuated or just plain not evacuated – and yet it was bombed as if it were a military fortress filled with soldiers. When ordinary people are thrust into such extraordinarily difficult circumstances, their best virtues and worst flaws will emerge, twinned and twisted, and sometimes hard to distinguish between. War reveals to us what we love and fear most.

I love what the back cover copy says about Chris Cleave’s EVERYONE BRAVE IS FORGIVEN, a novel I just finished reading, which is set during this time period:

“This dazzling novel dares us to understand that, against the great theater of world events, it is the intimate losses, the small battles, the daily human triumphs that change us most.”

I keep telling myself, “Okay. No more WW2 novels! Broaden your horizon! Read about something else!” And yet I keep getting pulled back to books with this setting. Chris’s new book, which earned a starred review in Publishers Weekly, is a gem, and written with such achingly beautiful prose, sometimes you can forget this is a book about what war does to people.  Several times I re-read a sentence just for the pleasure of tasting it again. All that said, it IS still a book about wartime decisions and the characters who must make them. The plot centers on three Londoners, Mary, Thomas and Alistair, and how the war orchestrates the choices they make. It is loosely based on love letters between Chris’s grandparents. You can read more about the premise here.

The beauty in this book is not so much the story, but how the story is told, with delicious prose, cleverly placed humor, and a quiet urgency. It’s different than THE NIGHTINGALE and ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, recent WW2 favorites of mine (and surprisingly also with lovely blue covers); it’s a little more Dickensy, as one reviewer suggested, but the wordsmithing here is golden. It’s one of those books that makes you ponder not just “what does this story mean?” but also, “what does this story mean to me?”

I’d read it again. A great book for book clubs. 4.5 stars




Author: Susan

This post has 6 Comments

  1. Patti on June 28, 2016 at 3:43 am

    Have you read “The Hours After: Letters of Love and Longing in War’s Aftermath ” ? It’s the story of Gerda Weissmann Klein and Kurt Klein told mostly from their letters.

    Here’s they book info: “The love letters of Gerda and Kurt Klein, revealing one of the greatest love stories ever told.
    Over fifty years ago, Gerda Weissmann was barely alive at the end of a 350-mile death march that took her from a slave labor camp in Germany to the Czech border. On May 7, 1945, the American military stormed the area, and the first soldier to approach Gerda was Kurt Klein. She guided him to her fellow prisoners who lay sick and dying on the ground, and quoted Goethe: “Noble be man, merciful and good.” Perhaps it was her irony, her composure, her evident compassion in the face of tragedy, that struck Kurt Klein. A great love had begun. Forced to separate just weeks after liberation and hours after their engagement, Gerda and Kurt began a correspondence that lasted until their reunion and wedding in Paris a year later. Their poignant letters reflect upon the horrors of war and genocide, but above all, upon the rapture and salvation of true love.”
    It was a really touching story ! (I like books on WWII, too!)

  2. ??Sandy Henriks on July 27, 2016 at 10:40 pm

    Loved Secrets of a Charmed Life and tonite we will discuss it in our bookclub. Wish you could be there??

  3. Susan on July 29, 2016 at 5:22 pm

    DARN! I just saw this now. So sorry. Did you have a nice time? Good discussion? Maybe you might read another one of my books someday and we can try again!

  4. Susan on July 29, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    Thanks for the great book rec, Patti!

  5. Lisa on September 30, 2016 at 3:16 am

    I really enjoyed this book too. Chris Cleave has mentioned that there will be a sequel!

  6. Susan on October 20, 2016 at 5:08 pm

    I am so glad to hear that, Lisa!

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