The final curtain is closing on the second world war, and Hana, a nurse, stays behind in an abandoned Italian villa to tend to her only patient. Rescued by Bedouins from a burning plane, he is English, anonymous, damaged beyond recognition and haunted by memories of passion and betrayal. The only clue Hana has to his past is the one thing he clung on to through the fire – a copy of The Histories by Herodotus, covered with hand written notes describing a painful and ultimately tragic love affair.
There are two things that had to happen before I read and posted this, the first, quite accidentally, is the coinciding of Bonfire Night in which a man of olden times is burnt in effigy for trying to blow politicians up and the titular character of this book who gets badly burnt in a plane crash.
The second being that I feel equipped to tackle the book now that I have read The Histories by Herodotus. Not that you must have read The Histories to get any enjoyment, it’s just that I am a completest and want nothing of interest to pass me by and as The Histories is name checked on the back cover I needed to have that in my head for satisfactions sake. So with all bases covered, I happily delved into this story of set in WWII.
Although billed as a love story, there is so much more to be had from this, bomb disposal, espionage, exploration, archaeology, art and literature are all employed to varying degrees in the text to give it more gravitas.
There is a lot to recommend about this book, it really does show the rich tapestry of life, in many forms. Naturally a lot of this book is about relationships of all kinds, family, friends, lovers et al and revolves around four intriguing characters all coping with a sense of loss for people, places and times past, that have been taken away from them by the war and all its senseless machinations.
Whilst each characters stories unfold in a whirlwind of superbly written prose, the surrounding ruins, countryside and desert mirrors the characters. The sense of a scarred, damaged, delicate landscape almost starting to help ease the protagonists into this new world that they are entering, almost helping to start the long road to recovery from the sheer continents wide devastation of lives destroyed.
As you would expect from a story embroidered in history and its importance, you are looking at a very emotionally charged creation. A timeless tale of love in war, which is given a veneer of romance and adventure mystery and exoticism, even managing to bring in the Libyan Desert as not only its own character but a metaphor for the characters hidden desires buried deep, as well as a plethora of other meanings.
There are a few negatives, not major ones mind, there are plenty of flashbacks and abrupt cut offs between characters and plot threads, so to begin with it may not the easiest to orientate too but after a few pages it’s easy to get into the groove, even if it makes it no less mildly irritating. At least one character doesn’t seem to have quite the depth to match the others which is unfortunate but doesn’t detract from the story at all. Surprisingly neither does the ending which I found a bit loose but happily just gave me more to ponder on in a wider sense of the aftermath of war for the real people who survived.
After years of evading romance in books the last few years have shown me the depths of what I have been missing and enriching my literary appreciation. So whilst this isn’t up to the passionate love affairs of Latin American authors such as Gabriel García Márquez, it’s still a very good and emotive journey through war time and all its anguish and profundity.