Everyone Brave is Forgiven is one of the few character-driven novels I’ve read that feels as detached as it feels personal. The book follows the story arcs of four friends before The Blitz, where London is brilliantly dramatized, setting the stage for what is to come. A privileged young woman Mary from an influential political family volunteers to the cause of war and expects to get an important post. She’s sent to teach children in the countryside, where she’s also to keep them safe from the constant bombings. Here she comes in acquaintance with Tom (a teacher and also Mary’s romantic interest), and Alastair (Tom’s roommate who has enlisted and who is sent to Malta).
I wasn’t able to associate with the characters until I was half into the book, with the exceptions of Alastair. As the book moved on, and so did the war, the many layers of these characters came forth and it added a whole new dimension to my perceptions of them. Really, more than the story itself, it’s Cleave’s way of telling it that’s more interesting. Also,
The author also makes a note of the double standards by the British army – on one hand, the British soldiers are fighting to bring down the propaganda of racism and generic superiority designed by Nazi Germany, and yet the disabled and colored children in London are subjected to contempt and isolation. I absolutely loved Mary’s character, and how she takes on family affluence and racism in order to protect children she’s responsible for. The way she acquires courage to stand for what is right and what isn’t, is nothing short of heroic, and Chris uses just the right words to narrate that.
The book’s first half is kind of slow, a simmering story that slowly comes to boil in the second half, and this is where things took an interesting turn for me. The differences in the character and their views before and after the war have been brought out in detail – and the effects and horrors of war graphically described.
Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is not just “another world War II” story, but an emotionally-charged account of love, loss, and courage in changing times. Deserves a read.