Tuesday, March 07, 2017

729 (2017 #27). The Summer Before the War

by Helen Simonson,
read by Fiona Hardingham

Like Helen Simonson's first book, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, her second one also make me laugh and cry and think.  The Summer Before the War starts in the summer of 1914, when 23-year-old, orphaned Beatrice Nash is hired by the school board of the small town of Rye in England to be the Latin teacher.  In the first part of the book, the reader gets to know the independent Beatrice and her champions, Agatha Kent, her London government employee husband John, and their nephews, medical student Hugh Grange and poet Daniel Bookham.

There's also all sorts of interesting characters in the town of Rye, many of them typically snobby towards the impoverished Beatrice.  There is an extremely funny scene when one of them attempts to boot Beatrice out of her job and install her nephew, a Mr. Poot, into it instead.

The title is a bit of a misnomer, as World War I starts about 23% into the book.  The first impact on the town of Rye is the arrival of a number of Belgian refugees - Beatrice takes a beautiful young girl named Celeste into her small apartment, so she can be near her widowed father, taken in by an American writer living across the street.

Later, though, British soldiers are drawn into the war, and both Hugh and Daniel enlist (Hugh as a surgeon) - along with Beatrice's promising Romani (Gypsy) Latin student nicknamed Snout.  Simonson does an outstanding job showing the impact of the war on these participants as well as their friends and loved ones back home in Rye.  She also subtly takes on issues such as women's roles and rights in that era, as well as class distinctions and prejudices.  Simonson lists numerous research sources in her acknowledgements at the end of the book.

Fiona Hardingham is a fabulous narrator for the audiobook, creating convincing voices and accents for different characters.

© Amanda Pape - 2017

[This e-audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

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