Lovely War is three romances in one. It is WWI in England and it is love at first sight for James and Hazel. But after a brief few days together, James is unexpectedly called to the front, leaving both of them to wonder if what they felt was love.
Then there is the more complicated relationship that develops between Colette, the sole survivor of her family and Aubrey, a talented jazz musician. These two meet in the midst of a France at war, but tragedy and racial tensions tear them apart.
Of subtler romantic origins is the narration of these two love stories. The Greek gods have gathered for a trial. Hephaestus has caught his wife Aphrodite together with Ares. When Aphrodite begs to plead her case she calls on Hades and Apollo as witnesses. As they give their testimony, the value of Aphrodite’s work as the goddess of love begins to emerge. But what does all that have to do with Aphrodite’s guilt or innocence and what will her husband decide? This is the third tale, one of a marriage on shaky foundations.
I trust Rachel McMillan’s book tastes implicitly, so when I read her glowing review of Lovely War, I immediately put it on my TBR list. I’m a romantic at heart. So though I knew to expect a lovely written book, I did not expect to appreciate the non-romantic elements of this story as much as I did especially as painful as they were.
The inter-racial romance between Colette and Aubrey serves as a wonderful backdrop to educate readers on the experience of black Americans during this time. Not only do we get to experience the birth of jazz and meet one or two of its’ heroes, but we also get to see how hatefully prevalent racism is at a time when America needed to be united to win WWI. Author Julie Berry made the stories of African American servicemen so very real as they found their true enemy was not those in the opposite trenches, but the prejudice of the fellow Americans they served with. I love how buoyant Aubrey’s personality is, even in the face of such ugliness. His refusal to take offense even while he has real reason for his anger is inspiring. But his battle to retain his dignity and honor does not go unchallenged.
Julie Berry also takes us deep into the trenches and psyches of the Allied soldiers through James’ experiences as a soldier. As horrifying as racism is, its’ equal is war which goes through men’s lives and bodies like fodder. James is a sensitive but strong soul, but even he cannot resist the relentless misery of war and the toll it takes on him personally. I’ve always wondered what it must be like to face such terror and tragedy and feel like I got to see it up close and personal through James’ eyes. Colette’s experiences as a civilian living in a war zone, give yet another perspective. What she endures, could be considered as awful as any soldier in battle. And yet like the men, she carries on.
To balance all the darkness of racism and war, there is the beauty of love. James and Hazel’s romance is sweet with an aura of innocence. Despite their brief time together and the distance that separates them, they manage to keep the flame alive. Hazel begins the story as a reserved, but talented young woman, but grows into the rock James and the others lean on.
Aubrey and Colette’s relationship is still quite a surprise to me. Their experiences and history are so very different and yet somehow they find within each other a soul mate. Colette is a haunted woman but one of strength and Aubrey’s irrepressible personality is the perfect tonic for her sad numbness.
I’ve always been fascinated with Greek mythology, so I loved that these two stories are narrated by the gods. It’s such a unique concept. Plus, it has the added bonus of humanizing the gods, which makes them so much more interesting. The characterization was fantastic and the way their work intermingles and weaves together the stories was so well done. It helped me see them in a different way. The ending of this book was unexpected and surprised me in a good way.
Lovely War is a lovely yet difficult read. It portrays the best and worst of what humanity can be. It educates, challenges and also uplifts the reader. It drags the soul through the depths of hatred, depravity and tragedy and then lightens the heart with the picture of how love conquers it all.