BY SADIE JONES
Fresh off her triumphantly assured debut novel The Outcast, award-winning author Sadie Jones has again delivered a quiet masterpiece in Small Wars. Set on the colonial, war-torn island of Cyprus in 1956, Jones tells the story of a young solider, Hal Treherne, and the effects of this “small war” on him, his wife Clara, and their family. Reminiscent of classic tales of love and war such as The English Patient and Atonement, Jones’s gripping novel also calls to mind the master works of Virginia Woolf and their portrayal of the quiet desperation of a marriage in crisis. Small Wars is at once a deeply emotional, meticulously researched work of historical fiction and a profound meditation on war-time atrocities committed both on and off the battlefield.
Hal Treherne is a major in the British Army, a young and dedicated soldier on the brink of a brilliant career. When he is transferred to the British colony of Cyprus in 1956, Hal is joined by Clara, his beautiful and supportive wife, and their baby daughters. The Trehernes quickly learn that the Mediterranean is no "sunshine posting," however, and soon Hal is caught up in the battle to defend the island against Cypriots seeking enosis, union with Greece.
Leading his men in difficult and bloody skirmishes, after years of peaceful service, Hal at last tastes triumph. But his confidence and pride quickly fade: traumatized by the brutality he witnesses—and thwarted again in his attempts to do the right thing—Hal finds himself well trained in duty but ill equipped for moral battle.
A seasoned army wife, Clara shares her husband's sense of obligation. She knows to settle in quickly, make no fuss, smile. But as she struggles to trust her own maternal instincts and resist the anxiety that surges with Hal's frequent absences, Clara grows fearful of her increasingly distant husband. When she needs him most, Clara finds the once-tender Hal a changed man—a betrayal that is only part of the shocking personal crisis to come.What place is there for honor amid cruelty, and what becomes of intimacy in the grinding gears of empire? A passionate and brilliantly researched novel about the effects of war on the men who wage it and the families they leave behind, Small Wars raises important questions that resonate for our own time.
Sadie Jones's first novel, The Outcast, was published to wide critical acclaim and won the Costa First Novel Award in Great Britain. It was also a finalist for the prestigious Orange Prize, as well as a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction. Jones lives in London.
Sadie Jones’ highly acclaimed first novel, THE OUTCAST, is a tough act to follow but Jones has met the challenge head on. The outcome is the well researched and remarkably written SMALL WARS. Set in Cyprus in the 1950s, Jones recreates the era down to the most intricate detail both physically and psychologically. This is the story of Hal Traherne, a young soldier, and the effects of war on his life that includes his wife Clara and their children. Having grown up in a military family, Hal’s life had basically been set from a young age when he played with his toy soldiers and gained the only approval his father ever showed.
Move ahead several years and Hal has married Clara, the delightfully lovely sister of an officer friend of his. As Hal is quickly given more responsibility, he is promoted to Major and sent off to Limassol on Cypress. Clara and their twin girls join Hal there and that is where the story of the EOKA terrorists who are trying to gain independence from Britain and Greece is played out. This is not an easy task as Britain recognizes this as an important part of their empire and wants these insurgents stopped and peace restored. In that Hal had barely fired a shot and was eager for “action”, he thinks he is now in the right place for him. However, those ideas change quickly as the horrors of war become all too real. Clara is left home to care for the girls and handle all that entails including crabby neighbors, severe cases of measles, and the shocking bombs and land mines she must contend with and protect her girls from. Hal witnesses the soldiers conduct worsening, the horrors of rape, killing, and torture becoming prevalent.
Hal finds himself totally disillusioned and his own involvement increasing to alarming proportions. His men go crazy when a land mine explodes right in front of Hal and they take out their revenge on innocent people of the village. Hal’s reaction to the whole affair being swept under the rug is one of disgust and his loyalty dissolves as does his mental and emotional stability. He can’t even interact with his family let alone sleep or deal with what is happening. Hal sends Clara and the girls away for their safety and at this point subtle hints from the author are leading to the startling and shocking climax. What will become of Hal? Will he go full into the depravity of his men? Will he return to his family and his beloved Clara or be a different person even if he does? How will morals and integrity go hand in hand with torture and death? Sadie Jones brings to light that there are no “small wars” and how they are handled by each individual can change the course of many lives. This is an expertly written, deep and captivating novel. If you weren’t a Jones fan before SMALL WARS, you will be after.
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