When I started reading the book, I was immediately taken back to my reading experience and writing style, of Kate Morton's `The House At Riverton', in as much as the composition and presentation techniques, and the tone and content of the writing, are quite similar. The story is told as almost the final act of an elderly person, as a series of memories that are being recounted almost as a living testament, an atonement for wrongdoings of long ago.
The main characters in this tragic and moving saga, are so well developed, with their own unique and recognizable personalities and traits, that it is sometimes hard to forget that this is a work of fiction and not fact, although fact is very much present throughout, woven skillfully into the fabric of the story.
There is some well researched material, about both the first and second World Wars and the Christian Anabaptist Mennonite communities, specifically those in the Pennslvania area of the US, in the mid to late 1900's.
The human spirit is examined closely, in the two young people, one from each side of the social divide, in the early to mid 1900's. Class distinction and community social status is still at its post colonial heyday, forcing them apart and attempting to define their destinies. Family loyalties are tested to the limit and found lacking by this new generation of young people, who are trying to shun the conventions and bridge the gap of the `class war', but are born just too soon for this revolution in social attitudes. But when they are eventually reunited, in the strangest of circumstances, are they still the same people, with that same strong and true spirit that they once were?
"What was denied us? The freedom to love where you find it, despite class, religion and nation. Theirs is this new world. Surely their love and happiness are all that matter now?"
There is also some interesting social commentary, which touches on the conscience, about the punishment World War 1 soldiers received for the military offence of desertion and how the families of the executed personnel were treated here at home. The shame and humiliation felt by a shattered, hard working chapel going family from the village, is well constructed within the story, along with the jealousy and revenge seeking tactics for imagined wrongs and injustices perceived by the gentry, who, unwilling to face up to their own failures and shortcomings, hide behind the lower ranks when justice is meted out.
It is clear however, that war is no class discriminator, but a leveller, taking the lives of sons, fathers, brothers and husbands, without distinction. So we start to see the closing of the social divide and the effect that it has on all members of a society, but it is already too late for our young couple, torn apart and flung asunder, whilst at home jealousy has been tempered with humility, shame surpassed by the final parting of a loved one, and a community's humiliation stunned to silence.
"Time and silence quieten all the gathered assembly now the sacred moment of remembrance is here at last. What is there to pray but rest in peace ... As long as this stone stands, none of you will ever be forgotten"
The ending may have been predictable to a point, but the final twists and turns in this lifelong saga, were left unrevealed until the end, with the lead up to the final revelations being well managed, realistic and credible.
An excellent, intense, moving and very satisfying book, that captured my imagination and held me spell-bound, until the very end.