Lovely War by Julie Berry

Feb 3, 2020

The last book review I wrote was at the end of July, over six months ago.

I can't believe it has been so long since I have graced this blog with my deep thoughts after finishing a book.

But this is a book worth breaking my silence for. It is difficult to write a review of a book I hated (or had mixed feelings about). But it is exhilarating to talk about a book where I loved every single page. And that's what I get to do this time.
The basic premise of the book might sound a little strange at first, but stay with me. I promise it works beautifully.

The story begins in 1942 in a hotel room in New York City. Aphrodite (the Greek goddess of love) has just been caught by her husband, Hephaestus, having an affair with his brother, Ares (the Greek god of war).

Ensnared in an incriminating golden net, Aphrodite pleads guilty but begs for a chance to explain. She says, "Do you want to see what real love looks like? Do you want to hear about my favorites? Some of my finest work?"

When Hephaestus relents, Aphrodite begins, "I'll tell you the story of an ordinary girl and an ordinary boy--a true story. No, I'll do one better; I'll tell you two."

And with that, she takes her audience back in time to London in 1917 where Hazel Windercott meets James Aldridge at a parish dance, and it is as close to love at first sight as one can get. Their romance is adorably sweet and innocent but lasts only a few days before James reports for duty in the Great War.

The second love story involves Colette Fournier (a Belgian who lost her entire family when her village was massacred) and Aubrey Edwards (an African-American pianist/soldier).

There are so many things I could tell you about this book and why I loved it so much, but I’ll just share three.

First, it was eye opening to learn more about the Great War, especially how black American soldiers were treated by their fellow countrymen. This paragraph, told in Apollo’s voice, sums up the tragedy of it:
"Another week, and tensions will overflow. The army, hoping to prevent a race riot, will decide there's no good place in the states to put them [black American soldiers], and no English-speaking outfit anywhere along the Western front that will serve beside them. So they'll hand them off to the French army like a goodwill offering. No, toss them like a hot potato. No, lob them . . . like a hand grenade."
I often feel proud of the sacrifice made by my country to bring about the end of both world wars, but learning more about the prejudices and violence within the American army because white soldiers weren’t willing to fight with black soldiers was so disheartening, it made me feel sick. It’s so easy to focus on the unity that is felt when a country comes together in the same cause, but this is one time where differences were not overlooked, and the army suffered greatly because of it.

Second, I loved both romances so much, and, if pressed, I don’t think I could choose a favorite between the two couples. The writing was gorgeous and never seemed trite or cheesy (which was such a relief since I had tried another World War I book a few weeks before but gave up on it because the writing seemed so mediocre). Also, this is a book I would feel comfortable recommending to anyone—the romances were so sweet and innocent.

Third, I loved seeing this story through the perspective of the gods. Some friends I talked to said they didn’t really feel like the gods added much to the story, but I felt like they helped me see love and war and talent and beauty and heartache and death in a completely different light.

Here’s one favorite example of this (but be warned that it contains spoilers).

Spoilers ahead . . .

Aphrodite calls Hades as one of her witnesses, and hegives his own accounts of a few of the characters. I always tensed up a little when it was his turn, knowing that someone was probably going to die.

During one scene, Hazel and Collette were on a train together traveling to meet James when it is hit by an explosion. Hazel is killed when she throws herself over Collette to save her friend’s life. When this happened, I actually had to turn off the book (P.S., I listened to this, and the audio is excellent). I was in shock, and I said to myself, “No. No, no, no, no. That did not just happen.” When I finally drummed up the courage to turn it back on, Hazel was having a conversation with Hades (not a good sign). She asked to go back, and, surprisingly, Hades agreed to let her.

Some might say that this was too happy (and unrealistic) to have happened, but for me, it made the gods not only an entertaining part of the story but an essential one. It made sense that one of them would work out a deal with Hades, and I loved that that person was Hazel.

End of spoilers.

One of the big themes in the book is that everyone is broken by war, and because of that, everyone has some grief that they are carrying. At one point, Aubrey and Collette are talking, and Aubrey is apologizing because he is so torn up and devastated by the death of one of his friends (and feels quite a bit of survivor’s guilt because of it), but he knows Collette has suffered so much more loss than he has. Collette quiets him and says, “Grief is not a contest,” and I thought about how easy it is for us to compare our grief when really, grief is grief; a loss is a loss; heartache is heartache. It is all real and painful, and it’s okay to feel it.

I'm trying to remember when the last time was that I read a book where I got so much pleasure from the actual reading and also felt so incredibly satisfied when it was over. It’s been a long time, and I’m glad I can now add this book to that small and very exclusive list.

1 comment:

  1. Yay! And this was only $1.99 on kindle this week, so I went ahead and bought it. :)


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