Award-winning author, Simon Van Booy's, beautifully written and unusual second novel, focuses on a small group of characters who have a significant effect on one another's lives, even though they may be unaware of it. Moving backwards and forwards in time from the Second World War to the present day and touching on certain times in between, we meet: Martin, a Jewish orphan, adopted by a member of the French Resistance; Sebastien, a young French boy who finds the hulk of WW2 plane in the woods near his home; Mr Hugo, a facially disfigured ex-Nazi soldier living his life in atonement; John Bray, an American B-42 pilot, shot down in France in 1944; John's blind granddaughter, Amelia, who works for the Museum of Modern Art, putting together exhibitions for the visually impaired; and Danny, a half-Nigerian, half-English, Hollywood director who, as a child, lived next door to Mr Hugo in Manchester, during the 1980s.
This is an intense story, but a rather slender novel, and one, I believe, which is better read without too much knowledge of the plot, the characters and how their lives interconnect, so I will not reveal more of the story in case I spoil it for prospective readers; however, I will say that just one incident, which occurs between two enemies, on a battlefield full of dead soldiers during the Second World War, impacts in ways which go far beyond one act of mercy. Based partly on a real story, and also, as the author says: "..on the Buddhist idea about how we are alive in order to overcome the illusion of our separateness; the idea that, in ways we cannot really understand, we are connected in life's web to one another", this novel is exquisitely written and rich in poetry and imagery. Maybe not the novel to choose if you prefer fast-paced, plot-driven narratives, but if you enjoy beautifully written stories with prose that is so resonant you want to read sentences again for the sheer pleasure they provide, then this is a novel for you.