Wednesday, July 24, 2019

World at War: Lovely War

Lovely War. Julie Berry. 2019. 480 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It is early evening in the lobby of an elegant Manhattan hotel.

Premise/plot: The novel opens during the second world war. A husband has caught his wife having an affair: an impromptu trial results. That husband? His name is Hephaestus. That wife? Her name is Aphrodite. The lover? Ares. If those names sound at all familiar to you--and they should--then it is because they are gods and goddesses. Aphrodite asks to tell a story of LOVE and WAR. That story is set during the Great War, the first World War.

Hazel Windicott, one of our heroines, is a young and talented pianist. She's playing at a dance when a young soldier--a young, about-to-ship-out-overseas soldier--James Alderidge sees her and falls in love with her. The two only share three days together, but oh what wonderful days. Both feel that this could be LOVE, the once-in-a-lifetime true love. He will be serving in France.

Aubrey Edwards, one of our heroes, is a young and talented ragtime (and jazz) musician. (He does play piano, but he doesn't only play piano.) He's a black man serving overseas in France. (He's a soldier and an entertainer.)

Hazel follows her heart across the channel and volunteers in France with the YMCA as an entertainer. She becomes quite chummy with our other heroine, Collette Fournier, another entertainer--a singer/dancer. Her story is quite tragic. She's the sole survivor of her family; she's a Belgian war orphan/refugee. She has known great love and great loss. Her heart has given all it can, or has it?

Hazel knows that it is against all the rules for her and Collette to socialize with the black soldiers. (Probably with any of the soldiers. It wouldn't be proper. But there is a definite extra stigma of prejudice going on as well.) Likewise it is against the rules for black soldiers like Aubrey to sneak out from camp and visit with women. But these three are drawn together--powerfully connected--by music.

Will Hazel and James get their happy ending? Will Aubrey and Collette? What price will the war demand of their love? And what impact will these stories have on the gods and goddesses?

My thoughts: I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this one. It was such an incredibly well-told story. I loved the dual settings. We get flashes of England and France during the Great War, the first world war. Our flashes of the second world war perhaps lack some of the perspective, being that they are all within a hotel room in New York. BUT. I think it still works overall pulling readers far enough away to see the bigger picture. There is no war to end all wars; war will always be; war will always destroy and kill, pull apart. Yet where there is love there is hope and goodness. I don't always love, love, love stories within stories, BUT this one was absolute perfection.

James "Jim" Europe and the 15th New York
I love the mythological touch. This is something that I would have never, ever, ever, ever thought of on my own. Adding Greek goddesses to a compelling war story very much grounded in reality. (The characters are fictional, of course, but James Reese Europe, one of the characters, was very much a real person.)

I love the importance and significance of music (and to some degree other arts). The beauty of music, of love, of life, of friendship provide an important--crucial--contrast against the ugly brutality of war. Both Aubrey and James are changed by seeing action at the front, changed by the training (or lack of training in some cases), that they receive while in France. No one can return home from war unchanged. And yet, and yet life still goes on. Beauty remains though perspective changes.
I love that hope resonates. It isn't that Aubrey and Collette and James and Hazel are absolutely guaranteed happily-ever-after endings with neat, perfect little bows and ribbons. It isn't that there's a guarantee against sadness, heartbreak, doubts, fears, disappointments, frustrations. But love HOPES and TRUSTS.

I love the writing, the language. It could be giddy-making in a romantic way. It could be quite funny.
"If I'm not a secret," he said, "what am I?"
"You're a brand-new piece of sheet music," she said slowly, "for a song which, once played, I'd swear I'd always known." (48)
"All I'm saying"--Apollo is still chewing--"is that my little flu virus, in its microscopic, contagious way, was a thing of beauty." He smacks his lips. "Annihilation has its own je ne sais quoi. We're all guilty of it. So spare me the sermons."
"I'm not guilty of it," says Aphrodite. "Destruction has nothing to do with me."
The male gods stare, then explode laughing. Aphrodite turns her back on them all.
"Then there's the poetry," says Apollo. "Another reason to love war. Why in the Great War...Not since the Trojan War has a conflict inspired such verse. Here, let me recite for you--"
"No!" Three divine voices sound together, for once in perfect accord.
Apollo looks genuinely surprised. "You don't want me to?" He plucks a ukulele out of the air. "Well, I'll be darned. Anyway," he says, "there was the music. The Great War lit a musical fire that engulfed the world." (59)
I also loved that it was written in five acts. It added just the right amount of DRAMA and TENSION.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Mae Travels said...

Your review isn't clear how World War I works into the plot, but it all sounds pretty complicated! Many authors seem to include at least some historical figures in their fiction, and this sounds like no exception. Issues of race were really fraught back then, and I guess they still are.

best... mae at

Becky said...

The human story line--the four characters--was set in World War I.

Arti said...

Fascinating! Looks like an intriguing, layered novel that’s lyrically written. Thanks for sharing this.