Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Book Review: 'Edith's War' by Andrew Smith

Andrew Smith lives both in London and Toronto and writes historical fiction – actual events populated by fictional characters. He has taken creative writing courses at the University of Toronto, and has also graduated as a graphic designer. To date he has published two novels – EDITH’S WAR, first published in 2010 (now in its 2nd edition in 2018) focusing on the internment of Italian men in Britain during WW II, and THE SPEECH published in 2016 defining Enoch Powell's infamous Rivers of Blood speech in 1968 in Parliament. His initial entry in to the book world was as a book designer before becoming a writer of non-fiction short stories before advancing to full-length novels.

Andrew’s novel EDITH’S WAR was a winner of a Gold Medal for Fiction, Independent Book Publishers’ Awards, New York. Not only is the book a revelation to those who have been unfamiliar with the topic of the internment of Italian men in Britain during World War II – just as the internment of Japanese and Germans in the United States during that period of time, it is also an introduction to a writer of eloquence and passion.
The flavor of this luminous book is set in the opening page – ‘Friday, April 26, 1940 -Edith was relieved when a burly figure appeared from a row of conifers that separated Mrs. Maguire’s garden from the adjoining property. The strange man strode purposefully towards the fighting boys, who were clawing at each other on the grass. He appeared to be older than Edith, twenty-five perhaps. Judging from his luxuriant black hair and tawny skin, the newcomer belonged to the Italian family who lived in the bungalow next door. But Edith was sure she’d never seen him before — she would have remembered. “Now you two, that’s enough,” said the man, grasping each boy by an upper arm and yanking them to their feet as effortlessly as if they were pint-sized dolls instead of two lusty adolescents. The boys practically dangled from the man’s gargantuan hands, their shirts streaked with grass stains and spotted with bright circles of blood. It wasn’t the bloodshed that sickened Edith. She’d seen worse brawls. What repulsed her was the expression of rancour that had transformed Liam’s normally placid features into a grotesque agglomeration of convulsive muscle and quivering flesh. Where does a fourteen-year-old boy learn to hate like that? Liam stood nose to nose with Domenico Baccanello, the youngest son of the Italian family. He gripped the front of Domenico’s shirt, knuckles white with tension. “You and whose army,” Domenico yelled. Edith was shocked at the thought that the two boys had been such fast friends. They often roamed the heath together for hours on end, or wandered the shore, probing for treasure among the detritus left by the receding tide.’

The novel tells one woman's heart-wrenching, yet ultimately heart-warming, story of love, hardship, passion and motherhood when she encounters the internment of Italians during Liverpool's Blitz of World War II. In early summer of 1940 young newly-wed, Edith Maguire, meets Carlo, the son of her Italian neighbours. With her English husband out of the country fighting for King and Country, Edith is besieged by unexpected and confusing emotions and longings. She is swept up in the unthinkable event of her Italian neighbours' internment and experiences first-hand the hardships and grief that ensue. Edith's story is interwoven with observations and recollections by her two adult sons during a day spent waiting in Venice for their mother, now in her 80s, to join them for a brief holiday. The two men's ruminations and discussions of their childhood during and following WWII slowly but surely release hidden memories and reveal long-held secrets. Edith’s War is a tale of forbidden love, survival, courage, forgiveness, and an intricate web of relationships spanning three generations.’

Brilliantly written, this is a story that satisfies on every level – intellectually, historically, as a newer revelation of the facets of World War II, and as a love story that unfolds with passion. This book is a film waiting to be optioned! Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, April 18

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.