Chris Cleve notes in his fascinating Author’s Note for Everyone Brave is Forgiven,
“I belong to the last generation of writers who can still talk to people who lived through the Second World War.”
We readers have been kept busy the past couple of years with several bestselling and critically acclaimed novels set during World War II. As Cleve’s note implies, too soon any additional novels on this topic may not be as historically accurate or inspired, so I am happy for this influx of reading material.
Cleve, for example, loosely based this novel on his grandparents.
He says of the quick loves and engagements from this era,
“Theirs was a generation whose choices were made quickly, through bravery and instinct, and whose hopes always hung by a thread.”
Everyone Brave is Forgiven moves between London where Mary has volunteered first as a teacher and later an ambulance driver and the island of Malta, where Alistair is serving as an officer. During Alistair’s first leave back to London, and during the pair’s first meeting, “The Blitz” begins, when London is bombed for 57 consecutive nights during 1940-41.
The themes besides war and love focus around friendship, the marginalizing of certain citizens, and the prospect of a changing social order.
Early on, Alistair is hopeful that after the war that “There will be less distance between us all.”
In their letters, he and Mary use humor as an escape from the horror. At points it is obvious they are all becoming desensitized to the death. The book moves to dark places as the characters deal with the trauma.
I found this novel emotional and educational. For example, I didn’t realize that most of London’s children were sent away to the country during this time. And as you will see, the word “most” hits heavy in this book. And still, more than 40,000 civilians, including thousands of children, were killed in the London bombings. I had not, until this point, read a novel that so well described these nightly bombings.
The book details so much destruction and loss but still I found it an enjoyable and valuable read, and I truly appreciate the author’s ability to put me in this place.
My next WWII read will be Lilac Girls: A Novel. What is your favorite read of this genre?
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