One summer’s day in 1913, a brush with tragedy irrevocably binds the fates of two families forever.
A year later, and West Sharland sends it’s men off to fight. Blacksmith’s daughter Selma Bartley is left to manage both the family business and her blossoming feelings for aristocrat Guy Cantrell.
When Guy is wounded in battle, his identical twin Angus takes his place, unbeknownst to his brother. But reckless Angus’s actions in France result in catastrophe for the Bartley family, hundreds of miles away in West Sharland.
Overnight, the village turns against the Bartleys and, urged on by her distraught parents, Selma is forced to make a new life in America .
Horrified at his brother’s actions, Guy ends up in Pennsylvania, with a new identity and a sense of peace that has previously eluded him.
But years later, with war again on the horizon, secrets are resurrected, reuniting Selma and Guy – and the names of the dead must be uttered once more….
A mesmerising tale about how a landmark moment in history affected the lives of so many…
It was just another Yorkshire afternoon in high summer with nothing to mark it out as a day that would change their lives forever. The young Bartley brood had done their Saturday chores in the morning heat, watered the horses waiting to be shod under the shade of a clump of elderberry trees in the paddock behind the forge. Newton and Frankland, their broad shoulders tanned like leather, were pumping water from the well into the slate tank at the back of the yard for Father’s wash in the zinc tub. It was time for his Bible class preparation. Asa Bartley never liked to touch the Holy Book with his blacksmith’s rusty fingers.
“What was denied us? The freedom to love where you find it, despite class, religion and nation. Theirs is this new world. Surely their love and happiness are all that matter now?”
“Time and silence quieten all the gathered assembly now the sacred moment of remembrance is here at last. What is there to pray but rest in peace … As long as this stone stands, none of you will ever be forgotten”
“Lest we forget”
When I started reading this book, I was immediately taken back to my reading experience and the writing style, of Kate Morton’s ‘The House At Riverton’, in as much as the composition and presentation techniques, and the tone and content of the writing, are quite similar. The story is told as one of the final acts of an elderly person, as a series of memories that are being recounted almost as a living testament, an atonement for wrong doings of long ago.
The main characters in this tragic and moving saga, are so well developed, with their own unique and recognizable personalities and traits, that it is sometimes hard to forget that this is a work of fiction and not fact, although fact is very much present throughout, woven skilfully into the fabric of the story.
There is some well researched material, about both the first and second World Wars and the Christian Anabaptist Mennonite communities, specifically those in the Pennslvania area of the US, in the mid to late 1900’s.
The human spirit is examined closely in the two young protagonists, one from each side of the social divide, in the early to mid 1900’s. Class distinction and community social status is still at its post colonial heyday, forcing them apart and attempting to define their destinies. Family loyalties are tested to the limit and found lacking by this new generation of young people, who are trying to shun the conventions and bridge the gap of the ‘class war’, but are born just too soon for this revolution in social attitudes. Then, when they are eventually reunited, in the strangest of circumstances, are they still the same people, with that same strong and true spirit that they once were?
There is also some interesting social commentary, which touches on the conscience of a nation, if not a World. About the punishment World War 1 soldiers received for the military offence of desertion and how the families of the executed personnel were treated here at home. The shame and humiliation felt by a shattered, hard working chapel going family from the village, is well constructed within the story, along with the jealousy and revenge seeking tactics for imagined wrongs and injustices as perceived by the gentry, who, unwilling to face up to their own failures and shortcomings, hide behind the lower ranks when justice is meted out.
It is clear however, that war is no class discriminator, but a leveller, taking the lives of sons, fathers, brothers and husbands, without distinction. So we start to see the closing of the social divide and the effect that it has on all members of a society, but is it already too late for our young couple, torn apart and flung asunder, whilst at home jealousy has been tempered with humility, shame surpassed by the final parting of a loved one, and a community’s humiliation stunned to silence?
The ending may have been predictable to a point, but the final twists and turns in this lifelong saga, were left unrevealed until the last moment, with the lead up to the final revelations being well managed, realistic and credible.
An excellent, intense, moving and very satisfying story, that captured my imagination and held me spell-bound, until the very last page.
This book was a paperback charity shop purchase. Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a 4 out of 5.