Everyone Brave Is Forgivenby Chris Cleave
***AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER***
The “insightful, stark, and heartbreaking” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) novel about three lives entangled during World War II from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Little Bee.
“Cleave’s foray into historical fiction is both grand and/b>/i>/i>/i>/b>/i>
***AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER***
The “insightful, stark, and heartbreaking” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) novel about three lives entangled during World War II from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Little Bee.
“Cleave’s foray into historical fiction is both grand and intimate. The novel’s ability to stay small and quiet against the raging tableau of war is what also makes it glorious….an absorbing account of survival, racism, classism, love, and pain, and the scars left by all of them…Cleave’s prose is imbued with a Dickensian flair, deploying brilliant metaphors and crackling dialogue.” —The New York Times Book Review
“With dazzling prose, sharp English wit, and compassion, Cleave paints a powerful portrait of war’s effects on those who fight and those left behind.” —People Book of the Week
“The London Blitz is cinematically re-imagined in a deeply moving new novel from Chris Cleave. As he did in Little Bee, he places forthright characters in impossible situations in Everyone Brave Is Forgiven, a story set during World War II.” —Carol Memmott, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
“Magnificent and profoundly moving…This dazzling novel of World War II is full of unforgettable characters and the keen emotional insights that moved readers of Chris Cleave’s Little Bee.” —Shelf Awareness
“Real, engaging characters, based loosely on Cleave’s own grandparents, come alive on the page. Insightful, stark, and heartbreaking, Cleave’s latest novel portrays the irrepressible hopefulness that can arise in the face of catastrophe.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Among all the recent fictions about the war, Cleave’s miniseries of a novel is a surprising standout, with irresistibly engaging characters.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Beautifully written, funny, gut-wrenching, and, above all, honest.” —The Daily Mail (UK)
“Intensely felt…Full of insight and memorably original phrasings.” —Booklist
“Well crafted and compelling…nostalgic and bittersweet.” —Library Journal
The day war is declared, Mary North leaves finishing school unfinished, goes straight to the War Office, and signs up.
Tom Shaw decides to ignore the war—until he learns his roommate Alistair Heath has unexpectedly enlisted. Then the conflict can no longer be avoided.
Young, bright, and brave, Mary is certain she’d be a marvelous spy. When she is—bewilderingly—made a teacher, she finds herself defying prejudice to protect the children her country would rather forget.
Tom, meanwhile, finds that he will do anything for Mary.
And when Mary and Alistair meet, it is love, as well as war, that will test them in ways they could not have imagined, entangling three lives in violence and passion, friendship and deception, inexorably shaping their hopes and dreams.
Set in London during the years of 1939–1942, when citizens had slim hope of survival, much less victory; and on the strategic island of Malta, which was daily devastated by the Axis barrage, Everyone Brave is Forgiven features little-known history and a perfect wartime love story inspired by the real-life love letters between Chris Cleave’s grandparents. This dazzling novel dares us to understand that, against the great theater of world events, it is the intimate losses, the small battles, the daily human triumphs that change us most.
When war is declared in London in 1939, Mary rushes to the War Office to sign up. She is assigned to be a teacher (not the glamorous war job she’d pictured), but the children soon win her over, especially a child in her class named Zachary. When her class is evacuated to the country, Mary persuades Tom, her lover and a school administrator, to allow her to teach a small group of rejected children who are forced to remain. Meanwhile, Tom’s roommate, Alistair, volunteers for the army and must endure a horrifying retreat in France before assignment to the island of Malta, where he and his fellow soldiers receive little food and are constantly under fire. On leave between assignments, Alistair meets Mary and the two are instantly attracted to each other despite their loyalties to Tom. Slowly at first, they begin corresponding as the war plunges forward and the personal losses pile up. Real, engaging characters, based loosely on Cleave’s (Little Bee) own grandparents, come alive on the page. Insightful, stark, and heartbreaking, Cleave’s latest novel portrays the irrepressible hopefulness that can arise in the face of catastrophe. Agent: Jennifer Joel, ICM Partners. (May)
“Cleave’s foray into historical fiction is both grand and intimate. The novel’s ability to stay small and quiet against the raging tableau of war is what also makes it glorious....an absorbing account of survival, racism, classism, love and pain, and the scars left by all of them...Cleave’s prose is imbued with a Dickensian flair, deploying brilliant metaphors and crackling dialogue.”
—New York Times Book Review, Editor's Pick
“With dazzling prose, sharp English wit, and compassion, Cleave paints a powerful portrait of war's effects on those who fight and those left behind.”
—People Magazine Book of the Week
“[An] intimate war epic...Cleave unflinchingly exposes the personal hang-ups of his characters as they grapple with hard life choices. He harnesses his immense talent for crafting gorgeously insightful turns of phrase to show us how courage and cowardice sometimes exist side-by-side in the same person — even in the same decision...both searing and timeless.”
"The London Blitz is cinematically re-imagined in a deeply moving new novel from Chris Cleave. As he did in Little Bee, he places forthright characters in impossible situations in Everyone Brave Is Forgiven,a story set during World War II."
—Carol Memmott, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Magnificent and profoundly moving... This dazzling novel of World War II is full of unforgettable characters and the keen emotional insights that moved readers of Chris Cleave's Little Bee.”
“Among all the recent fictions about the war, Cleave's miniseries of a novel is a surprising standout, with irresistibly engaging characters who sharply illuminate issues of class, race, and wartime morality.”
“Real, engaging characters, based loosely on Cleave’s own grandparents, come alive on the page. Insightful, stark, and heartbreaking, Cleave’s latest novel portrays the irrepressible hopefulness that can arise in the face of catastrophe.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Intensely felt...Full of insight and memorably original phrasings, the story is leavened by sardonic humor... Cleave paints an emotion-filled portrait of a damaged city with its inequities amplified by war and of courageous individuals whose connections to one another make them stronger.”
“Wonderful...Everyone Brave is Forgiven asks hard questions with no easy answers, reminding us of the price we pay every day just for being human.”
PRAISE FOR CHRIS CLEAVE
Praise for Gold
“Cleave has the extremely rare power of making you smile with lively language and clever observations while he is thoroughly, irreparably breaking your heart.”
—New York Newsday
“Cleave is an acutely intelligent wordsmith. Some of the sentences cut so deep you want to scream out in pain and recognition...This is an inspirational and moving novel in so many ways, and everyone should read it.”
—The Times (UK)
Praise for Little Bee
"Little Bee will blow you away....In restrained, diamond-hard prose, Cleave alternates between these two characters' points of view as he pulls the threads of their dark but often funny story tight. What unfolds between them...is both surprising and inevitable, thoroughly satisfying if also heart-rending."
“Immensely readable and moving…an affecting story of human triumph.”
—The New York Times Book Review
Praise for Incendiary
"A mesmerizing tour de force: ragged, breathless, full of raw emotion, the blackest of humor and relentless action."
—The Washington Post Book World
"Brilliant...This is a haunting work of art."
Add another sweeping saga to the "London during the Blitz" genre, this one well crafted and compelling but a tad shy of perfect, if only because the romance between the main characters isn't developed convincingly. It's 1939, and 18-year-old Mary North impulsively departs her Swiss boarding school to join the war effort. Her assignment: instructing children who have not evacuated. Mary takes up with mild-mannered Tom and meets his charming friend Alistair, home on leave, on a double date with her long-suffering friend Hilda. The charge between Mary and Alistair is electric, but their loyalty to Tom keeps them from exploring it further. Then the Germans attack, and Alistair is shipped off to Malta, and the grim wartime reality sets in. Flashes of violence and gore add shock value, but the overall tone is nostalgic and bittersweet. As the title implies, there are many ways to be brave, and all should be forgiven. VERDICT Readers who admired the author's Little Bee will snatch this one up and find much to like. Cleave shines when delivering droll banter, and the exchanges between Mary and Hilda and between Alistair and fellow officer Simonson during the Siege of Malta are particularly clever and touching. [See Prepub Alert, 11/16/15.]—Christine Perkins, Whatcom Cty. Lib. Syst., Bellingham, WA
Privileged young Londoners lose their sense of entitlement and their moral innocence in Cleave's (Gold, 2012, etc.) romantic but very adult World War II love story. In 1939, Mary North and her friend Hilda are cosseted upper-class girls used to servants and tea at the Ritz. But as soon as England declares war, 18-year-old Mary quits finishing school and signs up to serve through the War Office. Sent to an elementary school, she is disappointed when practically her first task is to help evacuate her students from London. Looking for another teaching position, she meets 23-year-old Tom Shaw, who runs the school district. Melancholy iconoclast Tom does not enlist, believing "someone must stay behind who understands how to put it all back together," but his more debonair roommate, Alistair, a conservator at the Tate, does join up. At first Alistair's brutal experiences on the battlefront offer a stark contrast to the ease of the Londoners' lives. Mary relishes teaching misfit children who remain in London, forming a particular bond with 10-year-old Zachary, a black American—the era's racial prejudice becomes an undercurrent throughout the novel. Mary and Tom fall into heady love. Hilda remains a boy-crazy snob. When Alistair comes home on leave, the four spend an evening together. Hilda is attracted to Alistair, who is drawn to Mary, who is attracted back but does her best to remain loyal to Tom, who secretly tries to enlist but is turned down. Alistair ends up on Malta facing dire conditions under the Axis blockade. Meanwhile, the Blitz hits London. Suddenly no one is safe, and all face harsh realities. While Mary, Tom, and Alistair are all deeply complicated beneath their bantering wit, it is secondary character Hilda who grabs the reader's heart as she evolves from Noel Coward joke into full-fledged human being. Among all the recent fictions about the war, Cleave's miniseries of a novel is a surprising standout, with irresistibly engaging characters who sharply illuminate issues of class, race, and wartime morality.
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Read an Excerpt
Everyone Brave is Forgiven
MARY ALMOST WEPT WHEN she learned that her first duty as a schoolmistress would be to evacuate her class to the countryside. And when she discovered that London had evacuated its zoo animals days before its children, she was furious. If one must be exiled, then at least the capital ought to value its children more highly than macaws and musk oxen.
She checked her lipstick in a pocket mirror, then raised her hand.
“Yes, Miss North?”
“Isn’t it a shame to evacuate the animals first?”
She said it in full hearing of all the children, who were lined up at their muster point outside the empty London Zoo, waiting to be evacuated. They gave a timid cheer. The headmistress eyed Mary coolly, which made her doubt herself. But surely it was wrong to throw the beasts the first lifeline? Wasn’t that the weary old man’s choice Noah had made: filling the ark with dumb livestock instead of lively children who might answer back? This was how the best roots of humanity had drowned. This was why men were the violent inbreds of Ham and Shem and Japheth, capable of declaring for war a season that Mary had earmarked for worsted.
The headmistress only sighed. So: the delay was simply because one did not need to write a marmoset’s name on a luggage tag, accompany it in a second-class train compartment and billet it with a suitable host family in the Cotswolds. The lower primates only wanted a truck for the trip and a good feed at the other end, while the higher Hominidae, with names like Henry and Sarah, had a multiplicity of needs that a diligent bureaucracy had not only to anticipate but also to meet, and furthermore to document, on forms that must first come back from the printer.
“I see,” said Mary. “Thank you.”
Of course it was that. She hated being eighteen. The insights and indignations burned through one’s good sense like hot coals through oven gloves. So, this was why London still teemed with children while London Zoo stood vacant, with three hundred halfpenny portions of monkey nuts in their little twists of newspaper waiting unsold and forlorn in the kiosk.
She raised her hand again, then let it drop.
“Yes?” said Miss Vine. “Was there something else?”
“Sorry,” said Mary. “It was nothing.”
The headmistress took her eye off the ranks of the children for a moment. She fixed Mary with a look rich in charity. “Remember you’re on our side now. You know: the grown-ups.”
Mary could almost feel her bones cracking with resentment. “Thank you, Miss Vine.”
This was when the school’s only colored child, sensing an opening, slipped away from the muster and scaled the padlocked main gate of the zoo. The headmistress spun around. “Zachary Lee! Come back here immediately!”
“Or what? You’ll send me to the countryside?”
The whole school gasped. Ten years old, invincible, the Negro boy saluted. He scissored his skinny brown legs over the top of the gate, using the penultimate and the ultimate wrought-iron O’s of LONDON ZOO as the hoops of a pommel horse, and was immediately lost to sight.
Miss Vine turned to Mary. “You had better bring the nigger back, don’t you think?”
It was her first rescue work of the war. Coppery, coltish Mary North searched the abandoned zoo using paths that were still well tended. On her own, she felt better. She sneaked a cigarette. With the other hand she massaged her brow, confident that frustration could be persuaded not to settle there. All downers could be dispatched, as one might flick ash off one’s sleeve, or pilot a wayward bee back out through an open window.
She had already checked the giraffes’ paddock and the big cats’ dens. Now, hearing a cough, she tiptoed into the great apes’ enclosure through a gate that swung unlatched. She kicked through the straw, raising a scent of urine and musk that made her heart rattle with fright. But she hoped it was not easily done, for a zookeeper to miss a whole gorilla when he was counting them into the evacuation truck.
“Come on out, Zachary Lee, I know you’re in here.”
It was eerie to be in the gorilla house, looking out through the smeared glass. “Oh do come on, Zachary darling. You’ll get us both in trouble.”
A second cough, and a rustle under the straw. Then, with his soft American accent, “I’m not coming out.”
“Fine then,” said Mary. “The two of us shall rot here until the war is over, and nobody will ever know what talent we might have shown in its prosecution.”
She sat down beside the boy, first laying her red jacket on the straw to sit on, with the rosy silk lining downward. It was hard to stay glum. One could say what one liked about the war but it had got her out of Mont-Choisi ahead of an afternoon of double French, and might yet have more mercies in store. She lit another cigarette and blew the smoke into a shaft of sunlight.
“May I have one?” said the small voice.
“Beautifully asked,” said Mary. “And no. Not until you are eleven.”
From the muster point came the sound of a tin whistle. It could mean that heavy bombers were converging on London, or it could mean that the children had been organized into two roughly matched teams to begin a game of rounders.
Zachary poked his head up through the straw. It still amazed Mary to see his brown skin, his chestnut eyes. The first time he had smiled, the flash of his pink tongue had delighted her. She had imagined it would be—well, not brown also, but certainly as antithetical to pink as brown skin was to white. A bluish tongue, perhaps, like a skink’s. It would not have surprised her to learn that his blood came out black and his feces a pale ivory. He was the first Negro she had seen up close—if one didn’t count the posters advertising minstrelsy and coon shows—and she still struggled not to gawk.
The straw clung to his hair. “Miss?” he said. “Why did they take the animals away?”
“Different reasons in each case,” said Mary, counting them off on her fingers. “The hippopotami because they are such frightful cowards, the wolves since one can never be entirely sure whose side they are on, and the lions because they are to be parachuted directly into Berlin Zoo to take on Herr Hitler’s big cats.”
“So the animals are at war too?”
“Well of course they are. Wouldn’t it be absurd if it were just us?”
The boy’s expression suggested that he had not previously taken the matter under consideration.
“What are two sevens?” asked Mary, taking advantage.
The boy began his reckoning, in the deliberate and dutiful manner of a child who intended to persevere at least until he ran out of fingers. Not for the first time that week, Mary suppressed both a smile and a delightful suspicion that teaching might not be the worst way to spend the idle hours between breakfast and society.
On Tuesday morning, after taking the register and before distributing milk in little glass bottles, Mary had written the names of her thirty-one children on brown luggage labels and looped them through the top buttonholes of their overcoats. Of course the children had exchanged labels with one another the second her back was turned. They were only human, even if they hadn’t yet made the effort to become tall.
And of course she had insisted on calling them by their exchanged names—even for boys named Elaine and girls named Peter—while maintaining an entirely straight face. It delighted her that they laughed so easily. It turned out that the only difference between children and adults was that children were prepared to put twice the energy into the project of not being sad.
“Is it twelve?” said Zachary.
“Is what twelve?”
“Two sevens,” he reminded her, in the exasperated tone reserved for adults who asked questions with no thought to the expenditure of emotion that went into answering.
Mary nodded her apology. “Twelve is jolly close.”
The tin whistle, sounding again. Above the enclosures, seagulls wheeled in hope. The memory of feeding time persisted. Mary felt an ache. All the world’s timetables fluttered through blue sky now, vagrant on the winds.
Mary smiled. “Would you like me to show you? You’re a bright boy but you’re ten years old and you are miles behind with your numbers. I don’t believe anyone can have taken the trouble to teach you.”
She knelt in the straw, took his hands—it still amazed her that they were no hotter than white hands—and showed him how to count forward seven more, starting from seven. “Do you see now? Seven, plus seven more, is fourteen. It is simply about not stopping.”
The surprised and disappointed air boys had when magic yielded so bloodlessly to reason.
“So what would be three sevens, Zachary, now you have two of them already?”
He examined his outstretched fingers, then looked up at her.
“How long?” he said.
“How long what?”
“How long are they sending us away for?”
“Until London is safe again. It shouldn’t be too long.”
“I’m scared to go to the country. I wish my father could come.”
“None of the parents can come with us. Their work is vital for the war.”
“Do you believe that?”
Mary shook her head briskly. “Of course not. Most people’s work is nonsense at the best of times, don’t you think? Actuaries and loss adjusters and professors of Eggy-peggy. Most of them would be more useful reciting limericks and stuffing their socks with glitter.”
“My father plays in the minstrel show at the Lyceum. Is that useful?”
“For morale, certainly. If minstrels weren’t needed I daresay they’d have been evacuated days ago. On a gospel train, don’t you think?”
The boy refused to smile. “They won’t want me in the countryside.”
“Why on earth wouldn’t they?”
The pained expression children had, when one was irredeemably obtuse.
“Oh, I see. Well, I daresay they will just be awfully curious. I suppose you can expect to be poked and prodded at first, but once they understand that it won’t wash off I’m sure they won’t hold it against you. People are jolly fair, you know.”
The boy seemed lost in thought.
“Anyway,” said Mary, “I’m coming to wherever-it-is we’re going. I promise I shan’t leave you.”
“They’ll hate me.”
“Nonsense. Was it minstrels who invaded Poland? Was it a troupe of theater Negroes who occupied the Sudetenland?”
He gave her a patient look.
“See?” said Mary. “The countryside will prefer you to the Germans.”
“I still don’t want to go.”
“Oh, but that’s the fun of it, don’t you see? It’s a simply enormous game of go-where-you’re-jolly-well-told. Everyone who’s anyone is playing.”
She was surprised to realize that she didn’t mind it at all, being sent away. It really was a giant roulette—this was how one ought to see it. The children would get a taste of country air, and she . . . well, what was the countryside if not numberless Heathcliffs, loosely tethered?
Let us imagine, she thought, that this war will surprise us all. Let us suppose that the evacuation train will take us somewhere wild, far from these decorous streets where every third person has an anecdote about my mother, or votes in my father’s constituency.
She imagined herself in the country, in a pretty village of vivid young people thrown into a new pattern by the war. It would be like the turning of a kaleidoscope, only with gramophones and dancing. Just to show her friend Hilda, she would fall in love with the first man who was even slightly interesting.
She squeezed the colored boy’s hand, delighted by his smile as her bright mood made the junction. “Come on,” she said, “shall we get back to the others before they have all the fun?”
They stood up from the straw and she brushed the child down. He was a bony, startle-eyed thing—giving the impression of being thoroughly X-rayed—with an insubordinate crackle of black hair. She shook her head, laughing.
“Zachary Lee, I honestly don’t know why we bother evacuating you. You look as if you’ve been bombed already.”
He scowled. “Well, you smoke like this.”
He gave his impression of Mary smoking like Bette Davis, as if the burning Craven “A” generated a terrific amount of lift. The cigarette, straining to rise, straightened the wrist nicely and lifted the first and second fingers into the gesture of a bored saint offering benediction.
“Yes, that’s it!” said Mary. “But do show me how you would do it.”
Slick as a magician palming a penny, Zachary flipped the imaginary cigarette around so that the cherry smoldered under the cup of his hand. He cut wary eyes left and right, drew deeply and then, averting his face, opened a small gap in the corner of his mouth to jet smoke down at the straw. The exhalation was almost invisibly quick, a sparrow shitting from a branch.
“Good lord,” said Mary, “you smoke as if the world might tell you not to.”
“I smoke like a man,” said the child, affecting weariness.
“Well then. Unless one counts the three Rs, I don’t suppose I have anything to teach you.”
She took his arm and they walked together—he wondering whether the lions would be dropped on Berlin by day or by night and she replying that she supposed by night, since the creatures were mostly nocturnal, although in wartime, who knew?
They rotated through the exit turnstile. Mary made the boy go first, since it would be too funny if he were to abscond again, with her already through to the wrong side of the one-way ratchet. If their roles had been reversed, then she would certainly have found the possibility too cheerful to resist.
On the grass they found the school drawn up into ranks, three by three. She kept Zachary’s arm companionably until the headmistress shot her a look. Mary adjusted her grip to one more suggestive of restraint.
“I shall deal with you later, Zachary,” said Miss Vine. “As soon as I am issued with a building in which to detain you, expect to get detention.”
Zachary smiled infuriatingly. Mary hurried him along the ranks until they came to her own class. There she took plain, sensible Fay George from her row and had her form a new one with the recaptured escapee, instructing her to hold his hand good and firmly. This Fay did, first taking her gloves from the pocket of her duffel coat and putting them on. Zachary accepted this without comment, looking directly ahead.
The headmistress came to where Mary stood, twitched her nose at the smell of cigarette smoke, and glanced pointedly heavenward. As if there might be a roaring squadron of bombers up there that Mary had somehow missed. Miss Vine took Zachary by the shoulders. She shook him, absentmindedly and not without affection. It was as if to ask: Oh, and what are we to do with you?
She said, “You young ones have no idea of the difficulties.”
Mary supposed that she was the one being admonished, although it could equally have been the child, or—since her headmistress was still looking skyward—it might have been the youthful pilots of the Luftwaffe, or the insouciant cherubim.
Mary bit her cheek to keep from smiling. She liked Miss Vine—the woman was not made entirely of vipers and crinoline. And yet she was so boringly wary, as if life couldn’t be trusted. “I am sorry, Miss Vine.”
“Miss North, have you spent much time in the country?”
“Oh yes. We have weekends in my father’s constituency.”
It was exactly the sort of thing she tried not to say.
Miss Vine let go of Zachary’s shoulders. “May I borrow you for a moment, Miss North?”
“Please,” said Mary.
They took themselves off a little way.
“What inspired you to volunteer as a schoolmistress, Mary?”
Pride would not let her reply that she hadn’t volunteered for anything in particular—that she had simply volunteered, assuming the issue would be decided favourably, as it always had been until now, by influences unseen.
“I thought I might be good at teaching,” she said.
“I’m sorry. It is just that young women of your background usually wouldn’t consider the profession.”
“Oh, I shouldn’t necessarily see it like that. Surely if one had to pick a fault with women of my background, it might be that they don’t consider work very much at all.”
“And, dear, why did you?”
“I hoped it might be less exhausting than the constant rest.”
“But is there no war work that seems to you more glamourous?”
“You do not have much faith in me, Miss Vine.”
“But you are impossible, don’t you see? My other teachers are dazzled by you, or disheartened. And you are overconfident. You befriend the children, when it is not a friend that they need.”
“I suppose I just like children.”
The headmistress gave her a look of undisguised pity. “You cannot be a friend to thirty-one children, all with needs greater than you imagine.”
“I think I understand what is needed.”
“You have been doing the job for four days, and you think you understand. The error is a common one, and harder to correct in young women who have no urgent use for the two pounds and seventeen shillings per week.”
Mary bristled, and with an effort said nothing.
“All the trouble this week has come from your class, Mary. The tantrums, the mishaps, the abscondments. The children feel they can take liberties with you.”
“But I feel for them, Miss Vine. Saying goodbye to their parents for who knows how long? The state they are in, I thought perhaps a little license—”
“Could kill them. I have no idea what these next few weeks or months will bring, but I am certain that if there is violence then we shall need to have every child accounted for at all times, ready to be taken to shelter at a moment’s notice. They mustn’t be who-knows-where.”
“I am sorry. I will improve.”
“I fear I cannot risk giving you the time.”
“At noon, Mary, we are to proceed on foot to Marylebone, to board a train at one. They have not given me the destination, although I imagine it must be Oxfordshire or the Midlands.”
“Well, then . . .”
“Well, I am afraid I shan’t be taking you along.”
“But Miss Vine!”
The headmistress put a hand on her arm. “I like you, Mary. Enough to tell you that you will never be any good as a teacher. Find something more suited to your many gifts.”
“But my class . . .”
“I will take them myself. Oh, don’t look so sick. I have done a little teaching in my time.”
But their names, thought Mary. I have learned every one of their names.
She stood for a moment, concentrating—as her mother had taught her—on keeping her face unmoved. “Very well.”
“You are a credit to your family.”
“Not at all,” said Mary, since that was what one said.
Noon came too quickly. She retrieved her suitcase from the trolley where the rest of the staff had theirs, and watched the school evacuate in rows of three down the Outer Circle road. Kestrels went last: her thirty-one children with their names inscribed on brown baggage tags. Enid Platt, Edna Glover and Margaret Eccleston made up the front row, always together, always whispering. For four days now their gossip had seemed so thrilling that Mary had never known whether to shush them or beg to be included.
Margaret Lambie, Audrey Shepherd and Nellie Gould made up the next row: Audrey with her gas-mask box decorated with poster paint, Nellie with her doll who was called Pinkie, and Margaret who spoke a little French.
Mary was left behind. The green sward of grass beside the abandoned zoo became quiet and still. George Woodall, Jack Taylor and Graham Brown marched with high-swinging arms in the infantry style. John Cumberland, Harry Rogers and Carl Richardson mocked them with chimpanzee grunts from the row behind. Henriette Wisby, Elaine Newland and Beryl Waldorf, the beauties of the class, sashayed with their arms linked, frowning at the rowdy boys. Then Eileen Robbins, Norma Reeve and Rose Montiel, pale with apprehension.
Next went Patricia Fawcett, Margaret Taylor and June Knight, whose mothers knew one another socially and whose own eventual daughters and granddaughters seemed sure to prolong the acquaintance for so long as the wars of men permitted society to convene over sponge cake and tea. Then Patrick Joseph, Gordon Abbott and James Wright, giggling and with backwards glances at Peter Carter, Peter Hall and John Clark, who were up to some mischief that Mary felt sure would involve either a fainting episode, or ink.
Finally came kind Rita Glenister supporting tiny, tearful James Roffey, and then, in the last row of all, Fay George and Zachary. The colored boy dismissed Mary by taking one last puff of his imaginary cigarette and flicking away the butt. He turned his back and walked away with all the others, singing, toward a place that did not yet have a name. Mary watched him go. It was the first time she had broken a promise.
At dinner, at her parents’ house in Pimlico, Mary sat across from her friend Hilda while her mother served slices of cold meatloaf from a salver that she had fetched from the kitchen herself. With Mary’s father off at the House and no callers expected, her mother had given everyone but Cook the night off.
“So when are you to be evacuated?” said her mother. “I thought you’d be gone by now.”
“Oh,” said Mary, “I’m to follow presently. They wanted one good teacher to help with any stragglers.”
“Extraordinary. We didn’t think you’d be good, did we, Hilda?”
Hilda looked up. She had been cutting her slice of meatloaf into thirds, sidelining one third according to the slimming plan she was following. Two Thirds Curves had been recommended in that month’s Silver Screen. It was how Ann Sheridan had found her figure for Angels with Dirty Faces.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. North?”
“We didn’t suppose Mary would be any use at teaching, did we, dear?”
Hilda favored Mary with an innocent look. “And she was so stoical about the assignment.”
Hilda knew perfectly well that she had neither volunteered nor accepted the role particularly graciously nor survived in it for a week. Mary managed a smile that she judged to have the right inflection of modesty. “Teaching helps the war effort by freeing up able men to serve.”
“I had you down for freeing up some admiral.”
“Hilda! Any more talk like that and your severed head on the gate will serve as a warning to others.”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. North. But a pretty thing like Mary is hardly cut out for something so plain as teaching, is she?”
Hilda knew perfectly well that Mary was already suspected by her mother of dalliances. This was typical her: baiting the most exquisite trap and then springing it, while seeming to have most of her mind on her meatloaf.
“I’m just jolly impressed that she’s sticking with it,” said Hilda. “I can’t even stick to a diet.”
With unbearable ponderousness, she was using her knife and fork to reduce the length of each of the runner beans on her plate by one third. With diligence she lined up each short length beside the surplus meatloaf.
Mary rose to it. “Why on earth are you cutting them all like that?”
Hilda’s round face was guileless. “Are my thirds not right?”
“Just put aside one bean in three, for heaven’s sake. It’s dieting, not dissection.”
Hilda slumped. “I’m not as bright as you.”
Mary threw her a furious look. Hilda’s dark eyes glittered.
“We have different gifts,” said Mary’s mother. “You are faithful and kind.”
“But I think Mary is so brave to be a teacher, don’t you? While the rest of us only careen from parlor to salon.”
Mary’s mother patted her hand. “We also serve who live with grace.”
“But to do something for the war,” said Hilda. “To really do something.”
“I suppose I am proud of my daughter. And only this summer we were worried she might be a socialist.”
And finally all three of them laughed. Because really.
After dinner, on the roof terrace that topped the six stories of creamy stucco, Hilda was weak with laughter while Mary seethed. Their white dresses flamed red as the sun set over Pimlico.
“You perfect wasp’s udder,” said Mary, lighting a cigarette. “Now I shall have to pretend forever that I haven’t been sacked. Was all that about Geoffrey St John?”
“Why would you imagine it was about Geoffrey St John?”
“Well, I admit I might have slightly . . .”
“Go on. Have slightly what?”
“Have slightly kissed him.”
“At the . . . ?”
“At the Queen Charlotte’s Ball.”
“Where he was there as . . .”
“As your escort for the night. Fine.”
“Isn’t it?” said Mary. “Because apparently you are still jolly furious.”
“So it would seem.”
Mary leaned her elbows on the balcony rail and gave London a weary look. “It’s because you’re not relaxed about these things.”
“I’m very traditional,” said Hilda. “Still, look on the bright side. Now you have a full-time teaching job.”
“You played Mother like a cheap pianola.”
“And now you will have to get your job back, or at least pretend. Either way you’ll be out of my hair for the Michaelmas Ball.”
“The ball, you genius, is to be held after school hours.”
“But you will have to be in the countryside, won’t you? Even your mother will realize that there’s nobody here to teach.”
Mary considered it. “I will get you back for this.”
“Eventually I shall forgive you, of course. I might even let you come to my wedding to Geoffrey St John. You can be a bridesmaid.”
They leaned shoulders and watched the darkening city.
“What was it like?” said Hilda finally.
Mary sighed. “The worst thing is that I loved it.”
“But I did see him first, you know,” said Hilda.
“Oh, I don’t mean kissing Geoffrey. I mean I loved the teaching.”
“What are you cooking up now?”
“No, really! I had thirty-one children, bright as the devil’s cuff links. Now they’re gone it feels rather dull.”
The blacked-out city lay inverted. Until now it had answered the evening stars with a million points of light.
“Why not the kiss?” said Hilda after a while. “What was wrong with Geoffrey’s kiss anyway?”
Meet the Author
Chris Cleave is the author of Everyone Brave is Forgiven, Gold Incendiary, and the #1 New York Times bestseller Little Bee. He lives with his wife and three children in London, England. Visit him at ChrisCleave.com or on Twitter @ChrisCleave.
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A very moving story inclusive of pertinent social issues done with great dry wit and compassion. Takes place in London and other site during WWll..the sacrifices of so many to stand up to evil.
Everyone Brave is Forgiven, Chris Cleave, author; Luke Thompson, narrator. I enjoyed this book on several levels. I learned a lot about the English experience during WWII and about the racism that existed there that I had never known before. Through the interaction of several characters that play a major part in the story, the war years come to life. It is through the experiences and beliefs of Mary, Tom, Alistair, Zachary, and Hilda, from different walks of life, that the atmosphere in England and the theater of war is made truly visible to the reader. The story is narrated expertly by Luke Thompson using a unique voice for each character which was individually discernible and identifiable. The romantic side of the story may be a bit too obvious, but the details of the war were graphic and descriptive giving the reader a credible picture of life there, at that time. The reader is placed right into the thick of things with bombs falling, soldiers dying and the citizenry suffering the exigencies of war in their own individual ways, according to their circumstances. There were shortages; there was destruction coupled with grave injuries and death, but there was also love and romance, compassion and dedication, all existing in varying degrees side by side, depending on where one lived and the class from which one came. During that time in England, white children were being given every advantage over black children, regarding education, safety, food and shelter. Black children were looked down upon, called names and abused by those who thought they were superior to them. The less fortunate were expected to suffer the dangers of the war while those more fortunate were eagerly evacuated. The rescue of white children went smoothly while those deficient or racially unacceptable were rejected and sent back home. The humorous interactions between characters and the romance lightened the subject matter. The war united people of different classes and different races, but would it last when the war ended? Would the romances begun survive afterwards in the light of the new day?
Starts annoyingly cutsie with Marys babbles; gets my full attention within the mid point with realistic WW2 accounts of blackouts and air raid drills and destructions; then optimistic and anxious for the pair to reunite Ending was a bit of a let down perhaps because I'm a romantic at heart
I recommend this book as a good story, well written, and lots of history about the bombing of London during the second world war. I have given this book to friends as presents. If you want a good beach book, this is it.
Chris Cleave in Everyone Brave is Forgiven has written on of the best books I’ve read this summer and a must read for anyone who enjoys historical fiction. The story takes place during the grim opening of World War II in London and Malta. It is the story of four young friends and how the war impacts them. Mary North is a well to do rebel whose father holds a high political office in the government. She sees the war as a way to shake up the class system of England that her parents support. Her boyfriend is Tom Shaw a middle class School administrator, who wants everything to remain the same during the war. Alistair Heath is Tom’s best friend and an art restorer. He sees that during the war everything will change and it will be impossible to go back to the way things were. Hilda is Mary’s best friend who is very naïve and unprepared for what changes the war will bring. Using these characters Cleave takes us on a twisted path through the war and we see how each of the characters is forced to change. The dialogue between the characters either spoken or written carries the story along and we see how each character develops. We see how the war changes some things as others try to keep them from changing at all and fall back on old prejudices. I know I’m reading a good book when the characters visit my dreams at night they are so well developed. The author’s description of events lets your imagination fill in the gory details. I really enjoyed how Cleave ended the book also still letting you realize that even love is changed by war. In an interview on BookPage by Alden Mudge, Cleave said he wanted to honor the memory of his grandparents. I think he has done them proud. I received a copy of this book from NetGalley and Simon & Schuster in return for a fair and honest review.
I received a free copy of this ebook from Simon & Schuster through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave was a mediocre book, which would not end. I'm not saying it was horrible, but I felt the author dragged the story line out for an extra half-dozen chapters instead of ending it at an earlier, more natural point. I really think the author reached the end and then realized he had all these other scenes and insights he wanted to use in this book, but instead of going back through and adding them in, he just tacked them on to the end. I hate that. If you can ignore the authors refusal to wrap-up his story, it's an okay story with decent writing. It drags in some spots, mostly in the chapters from Mary's POV, but it picks up again when we reach Alastair's POV during the war. I wish I could say more about this book, but it was just an okay book. Nothing stood out to me that would make me rate it higher than three stars, but it wasn't awful either. I will probably pick-up another book by this author to see how I feel, this just might not have been the right book for me.
I really thought I would enjoy this book more than I did especially with all the five star ratings I read. Unfortunately I did not. I think the writing was good, however I found myself wishing the book to be over already. It's as if I lived through the war with these characters. The characters, for me, didn't really stand out that much as well. I liked the comradeship between Heath and the Major on Malta and between Heath and Tom, but other than that, it was a little dull. Maybe, it was just me, but I just wasn't into this book. Thanks Simon and Schuster and Net Galley for the opportunity to read and review this e-galley. 3 likes ·