I’ve read my fair share of World War II novels. And one thing that’s glaringly missing is the presence of coloured people in the story. For whatever reason, there just doesn’t seem to be a place in the story for them. Like they weren’t even around in that particular part of history. This is, of course, only based on the books I’ve read.
Everyone Brave is Forgiven, however, changed that perspective for me. Because this book dealt with a woman who, despite her family’s and friend’s wishes, defied odds to help an African American child who soon lost his only parent to the war. You could also say that this boy saved her in turn at some point in her life. Because in war, you grab on to the only family you could find.
But that’s only part of the story.
This also had an inconvenient romance, not only because the world was at war, but because our heroine was already practically engaged to another man when she met another. And considering she was setting him up for her best friend, the dynamics of their relationship was not only inconvenient, it was also complicated.
Mary North is a privileged daughter of an MP who decided to enlist soon after war was declared. The only job she could get was a teaching position. She wasn’t enthusiastic about it at first but soon realized that it was her niche. But it was a tumultuous time when the threat of a bombing was almost always imminent. When the order came down to relocate the schools to the country, her superiors thought it best for her to stay in the city. Leaving her jobless and feeling inept.
Then she met the head of school administrators to demand a job. Tom Shaw didn’t know what hit him. Mary was determined, headstrong and didn’t leave Tom any choice but to “make up a position” because she wasn’t taking no for an answer. She was responsible for the kids that were remaining that mostly had learning disabilities and coloured kids. So at the time when Hitler was terrorizing much of Europe, England was dealing with racism in their own backyard. Probably not as brutal as they did in America where lynching and separatists ruled the South but subtle or not, it was something that black people dealt with everywhere.
Among other things, this book is about the blitz bombings England suffered during WWII. The constant displacement of people, the lack of food, the deaths and in the midst of it all, the people’s attempts to find some normalcy through the horrors. It’s also about what life was like to the soldiers serving in Malta. When they dealt with practically the same lack of resources and the constant bombings. They find camaraderie, comfort, and compassion even towards their enemies. Because in war, everyone is a victim in one way or another.
Chris Cleave crafted a story that covers a wide range of topics. There was a romance loosely based on how his grandparents got together; there’s racism that affected children who lost their parents to the war. It’s an account of survival in any way shape or form; of not losing hope no matter how easy it would be to give in. And many times, I thought the characters would for sure succumed to the weight of their troubles. But no one gave up. The dialogues were light even if the circumstances were not. Cleave found a way to infuse humour even at moments when things were dire.