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It's 1916, and Tristan Sadler has lied about his age in order to sign up to play his part in the Great War. Not, like many other boys, because of any rah-rah bandwagonism or sense of duty . . . but what else can a young man do when his family has disowned him? Things are so bad that his father, upon hearing of Tristan's enlistment, declares that he hopes the Germans kill his son, because "that would be the best thing for all of us."
The novel actually begins in 1919, with Tristan, now 21, aboard a train to Norwich with a packet of letters in his pocket. He plans to return them to the writer, the sister of his wartime friend, Will Bancroft, one of the young men who didn't come home. We soon find that Tristan hopes to unburden himself of a secret, one that goes far beyond the sexual identity he has been trying to keep under wraps. Yes, he and Will did have a few romantic interludes, but where Tristan felt deep love for his friend, Will claimed only that the trauma of war and the immediacy of death pushed him to seek "comfort." But what preys on Tristan's mind is their last conversation and the truth--the whole truth--about Will's last moments.
Tristan's narration takes us through horrific scenes in the trenches that are as vivid as any in Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy or Gallipoli. It's difficult to read these passages without despairing over the tragic loss of a generation and the extreme and often pointless sacrifices these young men--many little more than boys--were expected to make.
Some readers have mentioned that Boyne seems to be playing too many themes at once: the repression of homosexuality, an anti-war statement, the struggle between group mentality and personal values, and whether it is better to die for one's principles or to live without any. I wasn't troubled by this; after all, life is complex, not always linear or singularly focused.
Overall, Boyne has given us an original story, finely written.
(I do have one caveat for anyone who, like me, is hearing impaired. Michael Maloney is an excellent reader who is able to distinguish each character with his wide vocal range and repertoire of accents. However, he has a tendency to drop his voice for dramatic effect. I found myself constantly fiddling with the volume controls, and I still feel that I probably missed a lot. If I had it to do over, I would choose to read this book in print.)
19 of 20 people found this review helpful
I thought the characters were well developed and put into a setting seldom used. In fact, it was the setting which made me select the book, not the topic.
And the topic - well, it's something we're all forced to have an opinion of in this age - not having an opinion on this matter is considered a crime of omission.
And that's why I would nominate this book for group discussion - because while reading this book I had several interesting thoughts - and that's a compliment to the author. What intrigues me is that I suspect my thoughts are not the normal reaction to the characters and the situation.
Well done. A book that gives me new thoughts, that is my compliment to the author.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful