[Bragg is] an excellent recorder, catching the tone and texture of provincial England in the lean postwar years. The cast of characters, large but memorable, is mostly working-class, with fine distinctions carefully noted: for instance, those who look down on pub owners versus those who see living above the pub as a step up in the world. Wigton's rigid social order is embodied in Ellen's starchy Aunt Grace, but Ellen's feckless half-brother Colin is a pathetic outsider, doing odd jobs, showing off for kids.
This is the second volume of a trilogy that began with The Soldier's Return, about a family in a little town in Cumbria, in the northwest of England, in the years following WWII; the trilogy has been heralded in Bragg's native Britain as his masterwork. It is certainly, in its first two volumes, a highly impressive achievement, spinning an utterly convincing tale of small lives that embrace large issues of faith, courage, endurance and aspiration. Sam Richardson, a thoughtful working man whose life has been enlarged by his war experience in Burma, continues to find it difficult to settle back into Wigton, and eventually finds independence in taking over an old pub and bringing it back to life. This is hard on his wife, Ellen, whose dream of a more intimate home has to be given up; she has to realize, too, that her half-brother Colin, who suddenly surfaces with news of her cherished but mysterious father but is shifty and evasive, is not the kind of man Sam can tolerate. And young Joe, their son, entering a painful adolescence beset by nameless fears, has to straddle the disparate worlds and demands of his mother and father, trying to be at once tough and tender. Bragg has a remarkable knack for entering into the hearts and minds of his characters, and his understanding of their milieu, still an almost feudal one in many respects even in the mid-20th century, is acute. This is an old-fashioned book in the best sense: sympathetic, leisurely, absorbing and warmly believable. (July) Forecast: Bragg is a writer of many gifts whose work is not as well known here as it should be; most booksellers will have plenty of customers, primarily older ones, who would respond strongly to this and his other books. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
This sequel to Bragg's acclaimed A Soldier's Return finds Sam and Ellen Richardson and their son, Joe, still in the dreary slums of Wigton, waiting for their chance for a new council house in a developing outskirt. Times are tough, and they are still barely scraping by. Sam continues to adjust to life after war on the Burma front, managing a job in a nearby paper mill and record keeping for a local bookie. And he is still struggling to bond with an eight-year-old son he scarcely knew when he returned. Ellen keeps a part-time job to provide piano and dance lessons for young Joe, a bright boy; she deftly dodges her husband's bouts of depression, pinning her hopes on improving her son's chances for a better future. While A Soldier's Return reflects Sam's experience of anxiety, depression, and readjustment, A Son of War is Joe's story, full of energy, youthful exuberance, and impatience to get on with the matter of growing up and going forward at a time when England is striving to do the same. Bragg is a marvelous writer with a light and understated style that easily evokes memory of postwar England. His many awards, including a life peerage, are clearly well deserved, and this latest work is essential for most literary collections. Highly recommended.-Susan Clifford Braun, Aerospace Corp., El Segundo, CA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
The second installment of a trilogy set in a small industrial town in the north of England, about a young WWII vet's struggle to adjust to peacetime routine. In the award-winning Soldier's Return (2002), Bragg introduced Sam Richardson, a working-class lad from Wigton who had slogged with the army through the jungles of Burma and, after six years, managed to make it home alive. Happily reunited with his wife Ellen and his eight-year-old son Joe, Sam soon realized that the war might have ended but it still cast a long shadow over the whole of Britain in the form of shortages, poverty, and unemployment. Although he was strongly tempted to emigrate to Australia, Sam stayed on for the sake of Ellen (who refused to consider the move) and took a job at the local factory. Intelligent and thoughtful, Sam had wanted to be a schoolteacher but lacked the necessary training, and he chafed at the mind-numbing routine of life on the assembly line. When the owners reneged on a promised wage increase, Sam tried unsuccessfully to convince his mates to call a strike. Disheartened, he left the factory and bought a rundown pub in order to be his own boss. Bragg manages to evoke well the strange, schizophrenic atmosphere of postwar Britain-a time that was at once unremittingly grim and impossibly hopeful for the future-in the person of Sam, who was quiet and dutiful in the classic English style but full of secret enthusiasm and ambitions beneath the surface. As the story progresses, the focus shifts from father to son, and the climax narrows in on now-adolescent Joe's impending choice of whether to take a good job or stay on in school. Like its predecessor, a marvelous and very rich tale, all the morepowerful for its quiet tone and restrained narration.