Tag Archives: Sophie Hardach

Paperbacks to Look Out For in January 2020: Part Two

Cover imageAll the titles in this second instalment of January paperbacks are new to me starting with Paula Saunders’ debut, The Distance Home, set in ‘60s America. Siblings Rene and Leon excel at dancing but while Rene is a confident over-achiever, her brother is plagued by shyness and a stutter. Each parent favours a different child leading them down widely divergent paths. ‘The Distance Home is the story of two children growing up side by side – the one given opportunities the other just misses – and the fall-out in their adult lives. It is a hugely moving story of devotion and neglect, impossible to put down’ say the publishers promisingly.

Jumping forward a decade but still in America, Tom Barbash’s The Dakota Winters, is set in 1979 New York where twenty-three-year-old Anton Winter returns home after a stint in the Peace Corps to be greeted by his father Buddy. ‘Before long Anton is swept up in an effort to reignite Buddy’s stalled career, a mission that takes him from the gritty streets of New York, to the slopes of the Lake Placid Olympics, to the Hollywood Hills, to the blue waters of the Bermuda Triangle, and brings him into close quarters with the likes of Johnny Carson, Ted and Joan Kennedy, and a seagoing John Lennon’ say the publishers, which sounds intriguing. This one comes garlanded with praise from all manner of writers, from Jennifer Egan to Michael Chabon.Cover image

I loved Nickolas Butler’s debut, Shotgun Lovesongs; The Hearts of Men, its follow-up, not so much. I’m a wee bit cautious, then, about Little Faith which tells the story of the family of a young woman and her involvement with a fundamentalist preacher who is convinced her five-year-old son has the power to heal the sick. ‘Set over the course of one year and beautifully evoking the change of seasons, Little Faith is a powerful and deeply affecting novel about family and community, the ways in which belief is both formed and shaken, and the lengths we go to protect our own’ say the publishers, setting us up for more gorgeous descriptions of Butler’s beloved Wisconsin

Elanor Dymott’s Silver and Salt was also a disappointment for me but that hasn’t stopped me casting an eye over her new novel,  Slack-Tide. Elisabeth meets Robert four years after her marriage split up when she lost her child, and quickly falls in love with him. ‘Slack-tide tracks the ebbs and flows of the affair: passionate, coercive, intensely sexual. When you’ve known lasting love and lost it, what price will you pay to find it again?’ ask the publishers suggesting that all does not go well.

Cover imageMy last choice takes us away from the US to Berlin. Sophie Hardach’s Confessions with Blue Horses sees Ella and Tobi, now living in London, using the notebooks left to them by their mother to investigate the puzzle of their childhood in the old East Berlin, not least what happened to their little brother. ‘Devastating and beautifully written, funny and life-affirming, Confession with Blue Horses explores intimate family life and its strength in the most difficult of circumstances’ according to the publishers. I remember enjoying Of Love and Other Wars way back in the early days of this blog.

That’s it for January’s paperbacks. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for any that have snagged your attention. If you’d like to catch up with the first batch, it’s here; new titles are here and here. See you in the New Year!

Of Love and Other Wars by Sophie Hardach: A different sort of war novel

Cover imageThere’s an awful lot of war around at the moment. Sadly, the real kind is always with us but it seems to be more widespread in fiction than usual, an inevitable result of the First World War centenary I suppose. Having already reviewed Anna Hope’s Wake and Helen Dunmore’s The Lie I’d sworn off war novels for a few months but Sophie Hardach’s Of Love and Other Wars caught my eye. I’d enjoyed her first novel so much that I dodged my own rule – already broken as I’d started Pat Barker’s Toby’s Room which is excellent but I’m sure you’ve read more than enough reviews of that to want another. Hardach’s novel is about the Second rather than the First World War and although, as you’d expect from its title, there are number of love stories running through it, its central theme is unusual: conscience and pacifism.

Beginning in 1937, Hardach’s novel takes her characters up to the day the war in Europe ends in 1945. Paul and Charlie Lamb are Quakers, the sons of a father imprisoned in the First World War for his conscientious objection. One year older than Paul, Charlie is sure of himself and his pacifist beliefs, pressing Peace News on all who will read it but a reluctant Quaker for all that. Paul, less articulate, is more muddled in his thinking and finds his pacifism challenged by Miriam Morningstar, the daughter of his Jewish statistics teacher who is called back to the lab where she worked as a crystallographer decades ago to analyse the effects of the bombing campaigns. Paul and Charlie’s friend Grace works with kindertransport children alongside Max, a Jewish refugee from Vienna who is lodging with the Morningstars. As the war unfolds Hardach explores the moral dilemmas of war and pacifism through these characters and their stories.

If this sounds a little clunky that’s my fault: Hardach’s novel most certainly isn’t. Indeed, she’s a master of subtlety in the ‘show, don’t tell’ tradition. Max gently corrects Grace’s rebuke of his apparently draconian approach to the children’s table manners explaining that he is only trying to do what their parents would have wanted for them. Paul and Charlie each take a different stand, both equally challenging and courageous, while Miriam’s passionate determination to do something for the war effort is later counterbalanced by her mother’s guilt at cheering her brothers off to the last war and her work in this one. It’s a novel with serious themes but it’s also a story well told. Hardach’s characters are vividly real, and her treatment of them compassionate. A box of tissues might come in handy.