A British biographer of Anne Frank (Rose of the Earth), Lee opens her fiction debut with an enormous 1920 London funeral procession for the remains of an unknown soldier. The narrative then jumps back a few months as Alex Dyer, a journalist in his early 30s, tells his story to an albino grave digger in devastated post-WWI Ypres, Belgium. At the outbreak of war in 1914, British correspondent Alex ships off to France. Ted Eden, Alex's boyhood friend and now an army officer, writes to Alex that he's married Clare, a young British nurse, after a whirlwind courtship. Upon their introduction, Alex instantly falls in love with the ethereal but troubled Clare. As the two come together, the horrors of war, including the inhumane gas attacks and brutal frontal assaults told in stark detail, rumble in the background. By turns passionate and intricate, Harper's first historical novel exhibits top-notch writing and a trio of solid characters. (Oct.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
The Winter of the Worldby Carol Ann Lee
Journalist Alex Dyer made his name covering the bloody horrors of the European trenches. Yet even after the Great War is over, he cannot shake the guilt he feels for not serving on the front lines like his dearest childhood friend, Ted Eden. Worse still, Alex cannot put to rest the emotions that gnaw at him from the inside: his feelings for Clare, Ted's
Journalist Alex Dyer made his name covering the bloody horrors of the European trenches. Yet even after the Great War is over, he cannot shake the guilt he feels for not serving on the front lines like his dearest childhood friend, Ted Eden. Worse still, Alex cannot put to rest the emotions that gnaw at him from the inside: his feelings for Clare, Ted's wife—a woman they both have loved more
A masterful debut novel from the acclaimed author of The Hidden Life of Otto Frank, Carol Ann Lee's Winter of the World combines fascinating historical detail and color with breathtaking invention. Recalling the fire of the battlefield and the nightmare of the trenches, it brilliantly evokes a volatile time when life was frozen in the present tense and looking forward was the only thing more painful than looking back.
A London-bound funeral train passing through the rain-soaked English countryside is quietly observed by throngs of silent mourners. This sorrowfully muted opening scene sets the tone for Lee's (The Hidden Life of Otto Frank) debut novel, which takes place in World War I's mud-soaked trenches and during the war's immediate aftermath. At war's end, decorated war correspondent Alex Dyer finds a sympathetic ear when speaking with a gardener working with a small team to restore battlefields turned into cemeteries. Over the course of several days, Alex reveals the story of his doomed wartime romance with his closest friend's wife. Although this may be familiar territory for many readers, Lee's description of the fate of the maimed veterans and the search for and burial of the Unknown Soldier lends fresh poignancy. A fine selection for most public libraries.
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Read an Excerpt
The Winter of the WorldA Novel
By Carol Lee
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Carol Lee
All right reserved.
The great train thunders through England's southeast fields, its titanic lamps blazing in the wet, almost moonless night.
The Kent countryside, all soft, rolling hills and wooded valleys, tucked-away vineyards and apple orchards—reminiscent, some might say, of the landscape of the Somme five years before—stretches ahead as the train and its precious consignment travels north from the port of Dover. It calls fleetingly at the cathedral city of Canterbury, leaving the dingy iron canopy of the station shrouded in a thick pall of steam as it pulls away, heading through fields dense with shadow, where a thin moon rides the clouds and glistens on the wet leaves of trees and the uneven roofs of farm buildings.
The uniformed guards on board the train stare out into the darkness, occasionally able to distinguish between field and sky, and to glimpse the odd row of houses by the lights that wink in distant windows.
At irregular intervals the train slows to pass through other stations that should be deserted, where no trains will stop that evening. But when the guards look out, they see to their surprise and unease that the dark, windswept platforms are not empty at all, but occupied byimmobile figures who stand together, en masse and silent, like ghosts.
The officer in charge of the military escort turns to his companions, and in a voice low with amazement, tells them, "My God, they're all women." And they are women: mothers, wives, sisters, cousins, friends, and neighbors. All clad in deep mourning, and standing shoulder to shoulder, like an army.
The train plunges deeper into the dark countryside.
In the old market town of Faversham, a group of Boy Scouts waiting on the station platform take up their bugles and play "The Last Post" as the train hurtles by. Theirs is the first of countless impromptu gestures; every bridge and every crossing is lined with reverent, unmoving figures, and at more than one station a guard of honor stands on the platform, heads bowed upon reversed rifles.
The train is scheduled to stop at Chatham, and upon its arrival a crowd of women tear back the barriers determinedly and flood toward the locomotive with their hands outstretched. Even the heavy, slanting rain does not deter them, and as the train edges away from the station, hundreds swarm down to the end of the platform and run alongside the tracks until only a thinning ribbon of steam is visible.
Two hours after leaving Dover, the first gardens and backyards of London's sooty suburbs appear. Pools of light spill from open doors and upstairs windows where the curtains have been pulled aside for the first sighting of the train. In those drab, elongated gardens and yards stand yet more figures, not only women, but men and children too, and they wave flags, salute, bow their heads to weep, or simply gaze in their hundreds as the train rushes past, its headlamps glowing in the rain-filled darkness.
In the city itself, motorcars and omnibuses come to a standstill as people linger to watch the train steaming across viaducts and embankments, its pistons pounding and gasping in the stale, wet air. The news filters through the city that the train is approaching, and the agitated crowds waiting inside the colossal bulk of Victoria Station begin to push at the barricades that were erected the previous afternoon. Policemen and military officials assigned to receive the train try valiantly to keep everything under control, but the tension about the building with its carved, stone archway where men once went off to war is too strong to be contained.
And then the train itself curves into view, slowing, emitting a high whistle as it passes under the vaulted ceiling. It draws to a stop at platform eight in a billow of cooling steam, smoke curling about the huge arc lights of the station.
The multitude fall silent at last. The hush is broken only by weeping and praying, and the hiss and shunting of other trains.
The coffin remains inside the train until sunrise, guarded and screened. It rests upon a bier in the passenger luggage van with its distinctive white-painted roof, surrounded by wreaths so huge that each one requires four men to carry it. The wooden casket has been carved from an oak tree that once stood in the gardens of Hampton Court Palace; inside its wrought iron bands lies a sword selected by the king from the Tower of London collection.
In the pallor of early morning, the wreaths are removed from the luggage van and taken to Westminster Abbey's Jerusalem Chamber while the crowds convene outside the station in their thousands, enduring the persistent drizzle and November chill. In other parts of London, politicians and generals stir from their sleep, breakfast earlier than usual, and make their way to Victoria. The royal family is escorted to the newly built cenotaph, where Union flags enclose the stark white column. Government officials, the armed services, and war widows start to fill the long avenue of Whitehall; barricades close the area off from the general public until a quarter past eight, when a select number of mourners are admitted. Motor transport in the city center has been banned for this day and the next four, leaving the roads empty of the usual omnibuses and automobiles. London lies silent, as if under a deep fall of snow.
By nine o'clock, hundreds of troops and ex-servicemen are arriving at Victoria Station. Eight guardsmen step up into the train and enter the compartment where the coffin stands in darkness upon its bier. Carefully, they wrap the casket in a Union flag whose bright blues and scarlets have dulled during its long service as an altar cloth in France. A steel helmet, belt, and bayonet of the British Army are placed on top of the battle flag before the guardsmen gently maneuver the coffin along the corridor and into the open air.
Excerpted from The Winter of the World by Carol Lee Copyright © 2007 by Carol Lee. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Carol Ann Lee's first book, Roses from the Earth: The Biography of Anne Frank, has been translated into thirteen languages. She is also the author of The Hidden Life of Otto Frank and three books for children, Anne Frank's Story, A Friend Called Anne, and Anne Frank and the Children of the Holocaust. She lives in Yorkshire, England.
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