Review: Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

Title: Everyone Brave is Forgiven
Author: Chris Cleave
Pages: 432
Genre: Historical Fiction, WWII
Source: Free ARC from Simon &Schuster

Rating: B-

Note: As stated under the Source (above), I received this book for free from Simon & Schuster via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review (and trust me, honest is always what you’ll get).

Review: War is messy and destructive. It tears people apart – not just in body but also in mind. It has a way of taking what you think you know and turning it on its head. In the light of war (or the darkness of it), we reevaluate what is important, what love is, what bravery is, what and who we want, who we are vs. who we want to be. And at the end of war, we find that all of what we thought we wanted during it has once again changed. Or at least, I think that is a large part of the idea being conveyed in Everyone Brave is Forgiven.

For some reason, I had a hard time really sinking into this book. There were scenes that certainly had me swept up, that made me cry, where I could feel what the characters felt. The characters were wonderfully written, and the dialogue was so sarcastic and witty. I loved Alistair and Mary, the way they used humorous banter to keep the darkness at bay. I loved that they had such open and accepting hearts, and that Mary tried so hard to be more than what she believed she came from.

But I often felt detached from parts of the storyline. I’ve read several WWII fiction novels in recent years and in most cases, I felt distraught and destroyed by them, but not this time. Perhaps that was intended. Perhaps that was a result of the playful language, to dispel the despair not just for the characters, but also for the reader. Regardless, I kept feeling as though I should be more distraught. It’s World War II after all. But somehow, I just didn’t.

Laced amongst the witty dialogue and the atrocities of war, there is a second story, or rather, a light shined on the realities of racism during that time period. Not something I’ve seen reflected in any WWII fiction as yet (not that I’ve read it all!), and a subject well worth examination and reflection. The language used, though, I fully realize, is accurate for the time, can be difficult to swallow, and the treatment of blacks even more so. Which is exactly why it’s necessary to write about and read about those realities. It should be uncomfortable. It should make us feel regret and shame. Because it was shameful. And we shouldn’t stop thinking about how it was until things are a lot better than they current are. And maybe not all of us realize that everyone’s experience of the war (of the world) was not (and still isn’t!) the same.

Overall, my feelings are a bit ambivalent at the moment. There were a few scenes that nearly swallowed me whole, I was so wasted by them. I appreciated the limited insight into the experience of blacks in London during World War II. And I did love Alistair and have very endearing feelings for Mary. But, for me, something was just a little bit off. Perhaps a reread in the future is called for.


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