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Small Wars

Small Wars

4.0 3
by Sadie Jones

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“Sadie Jones has a long literary future ahead of her.” —Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl with the Pearl Earring

Fresh off her triumphantly assured debut novel The Outcast, award-winning author Sadie Jones has again delivered a quiet masterpiece in Small Wars. Set on the colonial, war-torn island of Cyprus in 1956, Jones


“Sadie Jones has a long literary future ahead of her.” —Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl with the Pearl Earring

Fresh off her triumphantly assured debut novel The Outcast, award-winning author Sadie Jones has again delivered a quiet masterpiece in Small Wars. Set on the colonial, war-torn island of Cyprus in 1956, Jones tells the story of a young solider, Hal Treherne, and the effects of this “small war” on him, his wife Clara, and their family. Reminiscent of classic tales of love and war such as The English Patient and Atonement, Jones’s gripping novel also calls to mind the master works of Virginia Woolf and their portrayal of the quiet desperation of a marriage in crisis. Small Wars is at once a deeply emotional, meticulously researched work of historical fiction and a profound meditation on war-time atrocities committed both on and off the battlefield.

Editorial Reviews

Donna Rifkind
“To this grave account of degradation—from great wars to small, from certainty to doubt, from romance to resignation—Jones brings surprising reserves of energy and finesse.”
Christian Science Monitor
“Ambitious and thematically charged…A timely novel, as well as a harrowing one”
New York Times Book Review
“In lean, penetrating prose...Jones serves her themes most potently with an unflinching tumble of violent encounters that effectively transform Hal’s liberation...into a haunting act of transcendence.”
Boston Globe
“A taut and transfixing novel… [Jones is] a gifted young author.”
Publishers Weekly
In her excellent second novel (after The Outcast), Jones sets a couple down in turbulent 1956 Cyprus as the Cypriots seek union with Greece and resist British rule. British army major Hal Treherne is dispatched to Cyprus, taking along his wife, Clara, and their young twin girls. There, they fight separate, but equally maddening, battles—Clara as an army wife with babies in an increasingly dangerous land, and Hal on the front lines where, yearning for firefights, he is instead haunted by his lack of control when torture and rape occur at the hands of his own men. While Hal dodges mortal danger, Clara tries to keep the homefront together, struggling to remain supportive of him as she remains isolated with the twins and he is tormented by the violence he witnesses. After Clara narrowly avoids death, Hal makes a split-second decision with powerful implications for their future. The narrative is excruciatingly tense and also graced with real emotion as a marriage is pushed to the brink and loyalties are stretched and broken. It's the perfect mix of poignant and harrowing. (Jan.)\
Library Journal
Worlds away from the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, this stunning new novel from Jones (after the highly regarded The Outcast) set in 1956 Cyprus might just as easily describe the present. In the lead-up to the Suez Canal crisis, the British occupational forces find themselves amid a terrorist campaign conducted by the EOKA, a group of Greek Cypriots set on independence at any cost via pipe bombs, rock throwing, land mines, and roadside ambushes. For their part, the British employ equally familiar counterinsurgency torture and interrogation measures to maintain order. Against this backdrop, career officer Hal Treherne and his family settle into life on the base, where Hal is charged with routing out terrorists. The daily skirmishes take a toll on Hal and undermine his marriage. VERDICT This richly imagined and warmly atmospheric story convincingly demonstrates that small wars, like all wars, are hell. This is historical fiction at its best. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/09.]—Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont.
Kirkus Reviews
Another intensely buttoned-up British scenario from Jones, who shows a marriage and a belief tested during the Cyprus Emergency. The Outcast (2008), her powerfully visualized, emotionally devastating debut, portrayed a loner in postwar England. This follow-up focuses on a couple, Major Hal Treherne and his wife Clara. A career soldier known as a decent and fair man, Hal is posted in January 1956 to Cyprus, where colonial forces endure random bomb attacks and shootings by guerrillas seeking union with Greece. Clara and their twin daughters join him on the British base, but the two adults' lives quickly diverge to run on parallel tracks. She is confined to the roles of wife, mother and sexual partner, while his responsibilities revolve around life-and-death military operations. Jones ably delineates in clipped, cool detail the divided male and female experiences: tense domesticity versus ineradicable encounters with blood and terror. Hal's conscience is pricked by one of his subordinates, Lt. Davis, who reports that during a poorly organized mass roundup he observed the unprovoked shooting of a civilian and the rape of two women by British soldiers. Col. Burroughs, who ordered the roundup, disparages the witness and reprimands Hal. The gulf between his integrity and the military's slippery pragmatism forces Hal finally to risk everything he previously held dear. A darkly compelling account of honor and disillusionment with contemporary resonance, less wrenching than Jones's first novel but nevertheless a confirmation of her considerable talent.
From the Publisher
"This moving novel...[demonstrates] how violence, loneliness and mistrust can dismantle a loving relationship." ---Dallas Morning News

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
P.S. Series
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The army had rented them a house in Limassol, quite near to the harbour because married quarters on the base hadn’t been sorted out for them yet.

Hal knew the weather had been bad on the crossing from England — even after Gibraltar — and he pictured Clara and the girls laid up in their cabins all the way from Portsmouth. He hoped they hadn’t been too sick; Clara wasn’t a good sailor. He had enjoyed his own journey from Krefeld, flying in bumpy weather with the countries of Europe and wrinkled blue sea passing below, like a clay model you could stick flags in, and move imaginary armies from place to place.

Hal had been promoted to major, and transferred from his battalion in Germany to this one, alone, not knowing anybody. Everything had been new to him. He had set about the business of leadership and his new rank with steadfast energy, and was rewarded by a smooth transition. Sleeping alone in that house for a month, as he had, he missed the company of barracks, and the isolation was grating.

The Limassol house was narrow, in a cobbled street, with no outlook to speak of and barely a lock on the door. It made Hal uncomfortable to think of it, the unsettling lack of secur ity, and that you couldn’t see anything from the windows other than the crooked windows of other houses. If someone were to approach, or set a booby-trap, there’d be no stopping them. A few months before, in Famagusta, an EOKA terrorist had lobbed a bomb through the open window of a soldier’s house as his wife was putting the children to bed. Hal knew his instinct — his agony of responsibility — must be tempered and that the Housing Officer was doing everything he could to get him married quarters at the garrison. But the other soldier’s wife, in Famagusta, had lost half her arm in the explosion. Hal had spoken to the Housing Officer again that morning, reminding him, but beyond doing that he had no power: he must trust everything was being done that could be done. If he didn’t have faith, he wouldn’t manage, but with it, he could live with the knowledge of the other soldier’s wife and still have his own come to be with him.

He lay in the bed that was too big for him, but would be too small for them both when Clara came, and imagined her leaving England for Cyprus. It had been a vicious winter all over Europe. Hal pictured a cold day at Portsmouth harbour, HMS Endeavour vast and cold too, and Clara waving to her mother.

Hal was right. Clara had been sick on the voyage. Meg and Lottie hadn’t seemed affected by the heaving boat at all, perhaps being small and low to the ground their bodies weren’t so disrupted, and she’d had to run after them, bent over, up and down the slippery metal corridors of the Endeavour, what felt like all day, every day, for the whole journey. The twins were sixteen months and had discovered exercise, exploration and teasing their mother.

Clara, whom Hal had taken to calling ‘Pudding’ during her pregnancy in Krefeld, had lost all of her baby weight, and with being seasick all the time and no German — or even English — stodge to sustain her, now barely filled out her clothes at all. She hoped she wouldn’t be too skinny for Hal. He loved her curves.

When she wasn’t chasing the girls up and down the Endeavour, or leaning over the metal bowl of the lavatory, she read to them. She read the new books she had bought for them in London, and she read the old books her mother had allowed her to take from the shelves of the nursery. She held the loose-spined books gently, reading to Meg and Lottie about fairies and trains and England, until all three fell asleep.

The Endeavour made its slow floating entry into the deep east of the Mediterranean. They passed Greece, and the long reaches of Crete. The ancient seas slid away beneath them, the boat throbbed and heaved, the islands and the skies surrounded them. Now she stood in the drizzle, watching Cyprus coming towards her out of the mist.

She had travelled out with an odd assortment of people: an Italian nightclub singer, a young teacher for the English school, who was a shy man barely out of school himself, and a Welsh businessman, with ‘interests’ in Nicosia, who was very boastful; he liked to frighten them with stories of EOKA’s terrorist atrocities, and make them feel as if they were entering a proper war zone, not just a long-held part of the Empire having a little trouble with a few insurgents. ‘It’s hardly the Blitz, is it?’ Clara said to the young teacher one night. It made her feel braver.

Despite the recent war, she had never felt herself a foreigner in Germany: it had the northern European restraint and ragged bombed greyness of home, and she had felt unthreatened there, even as she missed her family. She thought her sense of belonging might actually spring from the war between them, that England and Germany were like two siblings, badly bruised, but forced to carry on in the same house and learn to get on. Cyprus, though, was another thing altogether. Part of the Empire it may have been, but the island was a virtual chip off the Middle East too, Byzantium, Turkey, Greece, all of these parts in crisis, under the British flag, and her husband charged with part of its protection; Clara couldn’t help but feel nostalgia for the dull concrete barracks and modern flats of Krefeld, and Brunswick, that she had called home for the six years of her marriage.

The group of civilians clustered together on the metal deck while all around them troops prepared to disembark and the Endeavour’s crew brought her into dock. Clara knew they were in the way; she was trying to get mittens onto the girls, but kept dropping them, dangling on their elastic. The soldiers were National Service ones, noisy, desperate to be on land. Clara and the other civilians had kept apart from them on the voyage and it was disconcerting to be surrounded now. The Italian singer, who had put on a sort of safari suit with a cinched waist for their arrival, held one of Meg’s hands, and Clara, with Lottie on her hip, held the other. Rain stung her eyes.

The arms of the small harbour were around them now as they drew closer. Clara could see the houses of the town all along the straight front and the waves hitting the sea wall and splashing up. She could see the fishing boats and navy craft bobbing and bumping together on their moorings. She saw black cars and Land Rovers and soldiers, and behind them the jumble of plaster and stone buildings, warehouses, storehouses and the big metal mooring posts, which were mushroom-shaped with giant thick ropes tightly wound around them. She saw soldiers and Cypriots milling about, knotted in groups, waiting. She held onto her children’s small hands tightly.

She saw Hal.

He had seen her first and was smiling, with his eyes squinting against the wind. He raised his hand. Now there was just the waiting for the big slow ship to close the distance between them.

The front door stuck.

‘We’ve had a lot of thunderstorms,’ said Hal.

The girls peered past their mother’s legs into the darkness of the house.

‘Well gosh, it’s not awfully Mediterranean, is it?’ said Clara.

‘Not today.’

Corporal Kirby, Hal’s batman, began to bring the cases in from the Land Rover. Clara was forced into the kitchen; she and the girls pressed themselves against the wall as Hal and Kirby lifted the biggest trunk and took it upstairs.

Clara took off her hat. There was a stove, a small table, a sink and a food safe with a front that opened downwards to make a shelf. The brown louvred shutters were closed on the window at the front, and at the back of the house there was a door with a curtain over it. The little girls silently watched Clara go to it and push the curtain aside. It slid awkwardly on the plastic-covered wire.

The neighbouring houses backed onto a small courtyard where there was a washing bowl for clothes on the tiles, and a tree in a pot that was dead. She turned back to the room. The girls were pale and top-heavy in their buttoned-up coats.

‘Your things are wet, aren’t they?’ said Clara, and took off their woollen hats. ‘Shall we go and see what Daddy’s up to?’

In the front bedroom, Hal and Corporal Kirby were trying to find space for the trunks and smaller cases. Hal turned to Clara as she came in. He looked serious and embarrassed.

‘What a lovely house!’ she said, and he smiled at her.

‘That’s fine, Kirby. Leave it, will you.’

‘Right, sir.’

They heard his boots down the stairs, and the door, and then the Land Rover starting up. Meg and Lottie stared at their parents.

‘How’s it been?’ said Clara.

‘Not bad at all.’

‘Better than Krefeld?’

‘Well, not half so luxurious, as you can see.’

‘We don’t mind.’

‘Don’t you?’

‘Of course not. We’ll make the best of it.’

Clara went to him slowly. She put her face against his shoulder and the girls came over too, and rested their hands on their parents’ legs. Hal put his head down and felt Clara’s smooth hair against his cheek. ‘A month was too long,’ he said. He put his arms round them all as the sound of motorbikes and Cypriot voices and the banging shutters of other houses came up from the street.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"This moving novel...[demonstrates] how violence, loneliness and mistrust can dismantle a loving relationship." —-Dallas Morning News
Donna Rifkind
“To this grave account of degradation—from great wars to small, from certainty to doubt, from romance to resignation—Jones brings surprising reserves of energy and finesse.”

Meet the Author

Sadie Jones's first novel, The Outcast, won the UK's coveted Costa First Novel Award and was a finalist for the Orange Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction. She lives in London.

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Small Wars 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
GailCooke More than 1 year ago
London based author Sadie Jones won us with her critically acclaimed debut novel THE OUTCAST. She was praised for "her lush writing and tantalizing sense of setting and detail." So true, and all of this is at the fore once more with SMALL WARS, a deeply affecting story of love and loyalty. We first meet Hal Treherne as a cadet at a Sandhurst passing-out parade in 1946. As Princess Elizabeth moves down the line during inspection Hal "knew that she was the embodiment of his country, that he was doing his best to please and that he always would." Action segues quickly to a volatile Cyprus in 1956. Hal is now a major in the British Army, and has been dispatched here to ferret out terrorists, those who are seeking to unite with Greece. The guerrillas fight with any means - rocks, bombs, ambushes, random shootings, piano wire stretched across roads in the hope of lopping off British heads. Early in his tenure Hal is joined by his wife, Clara, and their young twin daughters, Meg and Lottie. Initially Clara is brave, cheerful, eager to make the best of things while they're in Cyprus. As for Hal, remember how we first met him - he is a moral man, an honorable man, believing that he is serving the greater good. However, the almost daily attacks begin to take their toll on him, and he is appalled, haunted by unexpected violence on the part of his men, raping, torturing. His state of mind, of course, affects Clara who is alone a great deal of the time with their girls in a strange, dangerous place. Their once solid marriage becomes frayed; Clara and Hal driven almost to desperation, each fighting their own private battles. Sadie Jones has crafted a remarkable story, richly detailed, reminding us of how deeply lives are affected by war. Highly recommended. - Gail Cooke
Heart2Heart More than 1 year ago
Some say that when people go away to war they come back completely different, never to return to who they once were. Yet sometimes we fail to see the changes that affect not only the soldier, but the families of those that support them during their absence. Often times it takes such a toll on them as well that the war doesn't stop when the soldier returns home. That may be when the small wars begin. As Clara marries into the British army to Hal Treherne, she believes that theirs will be a marriage and family that lasts forever. Hal's greatest desire in becoming a soldier is that he will be a part of the war that his father was and be the pride to his family by joining in the ranks of supporting his country. Yet that isn't the text book scenario for Hal. He spends the majority of his time on the home front conducting interrogations as the war erupts over unification with Greece and not on the battle fields risking his life. Great for Clara and the girls but not so great for Hal. The tension slowly begins as you see the changes that take place between Clara and Hal as one pulls away and the other attempts to draw near. It isn't until mines are planted on the beach on the base, that will launch Hal into his dream career and forever change the lives of him and Clara. In the newest novel by Sadie Jones, Small Wars, chronicles the lives of Clara and Hal as they attempt to navigate the turbulent waters of war in their own country but the war that is developing between them in their marriage. No amount of military training will prepare Hal for the moral compromise that lie beneath every battle he fights. I received this book compliments of TLC Book Tours for my honest review and must say I felt I got a front row seat into the lives of what really goes on behind the doors of many military marriages. This one is a captivating 5 out of 5 stars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago