SMALL WARS by Sadie Jones
“Hal saw nothing but the girl he was with and the service he was promised to, and in the deep silence at the centre of himself he made an absolute commitment to each.”
Review by Bonnie Brody (MAR 6, 2010)
Major Hal Treherne first saw Clara, his friend’s sister, when he was 19 and she was 17. The year was 1946. He felt overwhelmed by her and within a few years they were married. Hal came from a family where emotions were not talked about and intimacy was as close to him as a foreign language. He was not prepared for the language of closeness and love that marriage requires. During the first ten years of their marriage Clara and Hal were happy, looking forward to seeing each other, passionate and engaged. Things on the military front were quiet for Hal and this bored him as he was trained for combat. He got the chance to use his combat skills when they were transferred to Cyprus in 1956.
Cyprus was a British colony and the British were desperately trying to maintain their last stronghold in the middle east. The colony was fraught with terrorism and warfare as part of their small population was fighting a revolution against Britain and wanting to become part of Greece. Though this was a small war in comparison to major world events, Major Hal Treherne was in his element. He was trained as a warrior and he saw things in shades of black and white. Clara was a good army wife who wanted to prove to Hal that she could cope. As Clara said, “It makes all the difference in the world to have a wife who doesn’t make things harder, don’t you think?” A large part of Hal’s job was scouting the villages and the mountains looking for insurgents and terrorists. He was responsible for the searches and for the conduct of his men.
Hal begins to see that there is not a clear black and white situation in Cyprus. Young boys who may or may not be guilty are picked up for questioning and are tortured – beaten, water boarded, made to stand in humiliating positions for hours. He is witness to events of horror involving burning flesh and people being blown up. He sees innocent horses step on mines and lose their legs. These sights, sounds, smells, and memories stay with Hal and he is no longer the same person. He can’t sleep, the obtrusive thoughts are with him all the time, and he has no way of communicating his feelings to Clara. They pull further apart, victims of a small war in their own home.
Hal has a classic case of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder though there was no name for it at that time. He begins to isolate himself, spending long hours in his office away from Clara. When they are together, he is either distant or angry, acting impulsively or not responding to her needs at all. He can’t understand her fears and there is no way he can find to talk to her about what she is feeling or what he has experienced.
At one point in the book, Hal is told about some heinous actions committed by his men. In his dealings with this, he realizes that the military is more interested in saving their good name than in bringing the criminals to justice. He feels betrayed and disillusioned, angry at the institution that he has idealized since childhood. In a sense, he’s lost another war. Instead of valor and pride, he now feels shame and isolation. It no longer feels good to be part of this army that has betrayed its mission and broken Hal’s trust. The army, in its stead, looks upon Hal with anger and loathing for having brought to their attention something they would rather not have dealt with.
There are several small wars going on in this novel: the British war against Cyprus, the wars at home between Hal and Clara, and Hal’s personal war with the military once his ideals are shattered. Sadie Jones writes a compelling and fascinating novel of a period in history that is not well-known. She fleshes out her characters with minimal description, relying primarily on dialogue. She does an excellent job with this. The reader “knows” Hal and Clara and feels empathy and concern for them. We are also able to feel revulsion and disgust towards the criminals and the crimes they commit. This is a novel about war and the toll it takes at home and in the field. Though Ms. Jones refers to these wars as “small,” she tackles big issues of ethics, integrity, shame, betrayal and morality. She shows the reader the field of gray between the black and the white. This is a compelling and intelligent book, one that will keep the reader engrossed from beginning to end.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 38 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Harper (January 19, 2010)|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Another “war” book:|