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The Distance from Normandy [Hardcover]

Jonathan Hull
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Sep 2003
Mead parachuted into Normandy on D-Day and fought his way to Germany, through some of the most brutal violence of World War II. But his most difficult battle was lost years later, when his beloved wife Sophie succumbed to cancer. Since then, he has waged a private war against both loneliness and the terrible memory of a day in 1945 that went horribly wrong-and has haunted him ever since. His grandson Andrew, a scared and angry high school sophomore, has been expelled and is heading down a path of self-destruction. Mead agrees to take the boy in for three weeks, to set him right. At first, the two circle warily around each other, finding little in common. Then Andrew befriends a widow named Evelyn, and Mead busies himself fending off the match, even as he feels a reluctant attraction to this cheerful woman who seems to understand his grandson. One afternoon, rummaging through the garage, Andrew discovers an antique Luger, the deadly memento of his grandfather's war. In a final effort to save his grandson from himself, Mead takes the teenager on a journey to the beaches, bunkers, and cemeteries of Normandy, where both of them confront the secrets they have been trying to forget.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 308 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1 edition (Sep 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312314116
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312314118
  • Product Dimensions: 24.2 x 15.5 x 2.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,834,420 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jonathan Hull is the bestselling author of Losing Julia and The Distance from Normandy. His third novel, The Devoted, will be published in July 2012.

Born in Philadelphia and raised in Connecticut and Illinois, Hull joined TIME magazine after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley. Hull spent ten years as a correspondent at TIME, including three as the Jerusalem Bureau Chief. His reporting has ranged from the Gulf War and the Palestinian uprising to presidential politics and the troubled underside of American society. A cover story he wrote on youth violence won the Society of Professional Journalists' prestigious Sigma Delta Chi award for magazine journalism.


A father of two, Hull lives in Sausalito, California.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Heal thyself first 28 Jan 2005
By Joseph Haschka HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
In THE DISTANCE FROM NORMANDY, two lives of quiet desperation, further divided by a two-generation gap, intersect.
Mead, in his late 70s, lives in San Diego. His beloved wife of 51 years died of cancer three years previous. Now, he joylessly trudges from day to day living with her ghost - and the ghosts of his comrades killed in combat against the Nazis when they parachuted into Normandy on D-Day with the 101st Airborne. Oh, and Andrew, the difficult teenage son of his single-parent, dysfunctional daughter, is just pulling up at the curb for a visit.
At 16, Andrew is a physically unprepossessing nerd. By his own estimation, he ranks 2,888 out of 3,000 on his high school's social ladder. He's ignored by girls, and bullied by boys. He was recently suspended for pulling a knife on one of his tormentors. Andrew's ghost is that of his best friend Matt, another social outcast, who recently committed suicide. Andrew is tempted to follow.
Mead's first impression of Andrew:
"What a punk, thought Mead, studying his grandson, whose enormous jeans could easily have fit on the biggest man in Mead's old rifle company. He wore dirty, unlaced sneakers ... and a large and rumpled black T-shirt with some sort of Satanic omen painted on it. He had a small, gold hoop earring in his left earlobe and his hair ... looked like it had been cut with shears, then fermented under a helmet for several weeks. In short, the boy looked like a refugee or drug freak."
At one point, Andrew shouts at his grandfather:
"You expect everybody to be like you, don't you? Well, I don't want to be like you! Why would anybody want to be like you? You don't have any friends, you don't do anything all day ...
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  23 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I eagerly looked forward to Hull's next title. 26 July 2004
By Teen Reads - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
THE DISTANCE FROM NORMANDY is the long-awaited sophomore novel from Jonathan Hull, whose debut effort, LOSING JULIA, is one of my favorite books. Once again Hull engages and envelops readers in his story.

As the book opens, Mead, a World War II veteran with harrowing memories of the Battle of Normandy, is living alone in California. He misses his wife, who died of cancer. He copes with the realities of old age, and he spends a lot of the day nostalgic about the past.

His world is rocked one day when his daughter, Sharon, a single mom, calls to inform him that his only grandchild, Andrew, has been booted from school for brandishing a penknife at a bully. Andrew is coping badly with the suicide of his best friend, Matt, and could benefit from some stability in his life in a new place. Mead offers to have his grandson spend three weeks of summer vacation with him. His goal: to get Andrew back in line.

As soon as Andrew arrives, their worlds collide. Mead lives his life with the orderliness of the Army, while Andrew is a typical teen, prone to wearing loose fitting clothes, lying on his bed listening to music and daydreaming about girls. His grandfather cannot relate to Andrew and reflects back on his own youth that was defined by war, comrades who blew up around him and life that was all too real.

Mead and Andrew strike a measured relationship. They test each other endlessly. While there is an essence of caring between them, there is a gap in their rapport that has been bred by physical and emotional distance. Neither is warm; both are hurting. Each is trapped in his own memories --- Andrew of wishing he had been able to save Matt, and Mead of war and an incident in Normandy that haunts him.

One day while rummaging around the house while Mead is out, Andrew finds an old German Luger, which is a souvenir from the war along with some other war momentoes. Shortly after this Andrew gets himself into more trouble and Mead makes a decision to take him to Normandy to show him the world he knew with a goal to sharpen him up about history, and what mattered. This trip to Europe --- and into the past --- brings secrets to the surface for both of them.

While plot and storyline are critical to any book's success, Hull's true skill comes from how he writes character and emotion. His style captivates his readers and immediately draws them into the story. As he did in LOSING JULIA, Hull captures the indignity of growing old. Here he also captures the pressures of being young.

There are many comedic moments as these two generations collide. The first night Mead buys huge steaks for dinner only to learn that his grandson is a vegetarian. Their first trip to the California beach together pairs this aging codger with a penchant for embarassing bathing attire with his grandson who is a slave to his raging hormones and a teen's desire to fit in.

Some of the best dialogue surrounds Andrew's matchmaking attempts to bring his grandfather and Evelyn, the woman across the street, together. Mead is his usual curmudgeony self about this. Andrew is tenacious in his efforts. The story here takes a twist that this reviewer found extraneous, but delivered some imagery that wrapped the book nicely.

I read this book four months before tapping out this review, yet I still find myself smiling as I think about it. It's not LOSING JULIA, but it is a book that I recommend heartily. And as I read the last page, I eagerly looked forward to Hull's next title. Jonathan, get writing!

--- Reviewed by Carol Fitzgerald
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Generations Collide and Memories Haunt in Riveting Novel 28 Sep 2004
By Antoinette Klein - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Having been thoroughly mesmerized by Hull's first novel, LOSING JULIA, I was anxious to see if he could do it again or would he become, as many writers do, a one-hit wonder. Happily, he has equalled, if not exceeded, his earlier effort.

The realities of old age manifest themselves in the form of Mead, a WWII veteran dealing with wartime memories that won't let go and the death of Sophie, his wife of fifty-one years. His life has become a boring wait, waiting to join Sophie.

But one day his daughter calls from Chicago bemoaning the fact her son Andrew has been expelled from high school. She is a single mother who has reached the end of her resources and desperately needs help. Mead offers to take his grandson into his Santa Monica home and give his daughter a break.

Never was the generation gap more apparent than with Andrew and Mead in their first weeks together. Andrew arrives with bleached hair, jeans bagging below a decent level, and an earring. He is a pitiful sight with a terrible case of acne and a huge chip on his shoulder. Mead cannot believe his grandson has pulled a knife on another kid at school or that his nice normal life has produced a kid who looks like Andrew.

Andrew is not exactly thrilled to be with his grandfather either. He has been relentlessly bullied in school and only after his only friend commits suicide does he retaliate by pulling a knife on the chief bullier.

This unlikely duo seems destined for misery and is only slightly helped by an elderly woman who lives across the street from Mead and can see the goodness in both men. A near-tragedy shocks Mead out of his complacent life and forces him to act in order to save his grandson. Hoping to show him what a wonderful life he has and how much he has to be thankful for, he takes him on a trip to the famous battlegrounds of Europe including Normandy where Mead parachuted in on the D-Day invasion.

Jonathan Hull has done a remarkable job of getting inside the head of both characters, of showing the obstinancy and fear both have, and the slow and wary way they come to see the other person's heartache. For both have demons to exorcise and each will have to learn to lean on the other for the strength necessary.

A beautifully told tale of the hardship of aging with dignity, the trauma of being an outsider, the tragedy of losing those closest to you, and the memories that must be let go of in order to face the future unafraid.

From his graphic descriptions of wartime to his humorous look at how it feels to go to the beach with your grandfather, Jonathan Hull gives the reader something to think about, to reflect upon, and to cherish.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hull once again engages and envelops readers in his story 4 Oct 2003
By Bookreporter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
THE DISTANCE FROM NORMANDY is the long-awaited sophomore novel from Jonathan Hull, whose debut effort, LOSING JULIA, is one of my favorite books. Once again Hull engages and envelops readers in his story.
As the book opens, Mead, a World War II veteran with harrowing memories of the Battle of Normandy, is living alone in California. He misses his wife, who died of cancer. He copes with the realities of old age, and he spends a lot of the day nostalgic about the past.
His world is rocked one day when his daughter, Sharon, a single mom, calls to inform him that his only grandchild, Andrew, has been booted from school for brandishing a penknife at a bully. Andrew is coping badly with the suicide of his best friend, Matt, and could benefit from some stability in his life in a new place. Mead offers to have his grandson spend three weeks of summer vacation with him. His goal: to get Andrew back in line.
As soon as Andrew arrives, their worlds collide. Mead lives his life with the orderliness of the Army, while Andrew is a typical teen, prone to wearing loose fitting clothes, lying on his bed listening to music and daydreaming about girls. His grandfather cannot relate to Andrew and reflects back on his own youth that was defined by war, comrades who blew up around him and life that was all too real.
Mead and Andrew strike a measured relationship. They test each other endlessly. While there is an essence of caring between them, there is a gap in their rapport that has been bred by physical and emotional distance. Neither is warm; both are hurting. Each is trapped in his own memories --- Andrew of wishing he had been able to save Matt, and Mead of war and an incident in Normandy that haunts him.
One day while rummaging around the house while Mead is out, Andrew finds an old German Luger, which is a souvenir from the war along with some other war momentoes. Shortly after this Andrew gets himself into more trouble and Mead makes a decision to take him to Normandy to show him the world he knew with a goal to sharpen him up about history, and what mattered. This trip to Europe --- and into the past --- brings secrets to the surface for both of them.
While plot and storyline are critical to any book's success, Hull's true skill comes from how he writes character and emotion. His style captivates his readers and immediately draws them into the story. As he did in LOSING JULIA, Hull captures the indignity of growing old. Here he also captures the pressures of being young.
There are many comedic moments as these two generations collide. The first night Mead buys huge steaks for dinner only to learn that his grandson is a vegetarian. Their first trip to the California beach together pairs this aging codger with a penchant for embarassing bathing attire with his grandson who is a slave to his raging hormones and a teen's desire to fit in.
Some of the best dialogue surrounds Andrew's matchmaking attempts to bring his grandfather and Evelyn, the woman across the street, together. Mead is his usual curmudgeony self about this. Andrew is tenacious in his efforts. The story here takes a twist that this reviewer found extraneous, but delivered some imagery that wrapped the book nicely.
I read this book four months before tapping out this review, yet I still find myself smiling as I think about it. It's not LOSING JULIA, but it is a book that I recommend heartily. And as I read the last page, I eagerly looked forward to Hull's next title. Jonathan, get writing!
--- Reviewed by Carol Fitzgerald
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A story of redemption 23 Sep 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I found Hull's new book to be an even more engaging tale than his first effort, "Losing Julia," And I intend that as a huge compliment, since "Losing Julia" was one of my all-time favorite novels. In "The Distance From Normandy" Hull covers some of the same emotional territory as in the previous book, but does so this time with a greater sense of urgency, if that's possible. Like in his first book, the protagonist is a veteran, this time of WWII, whose life was defined and forever marked by that brutal experience. When we meet him, Mead is alone and lonely, recently widowed, watching the days pass in his Southern California home, living alternately in denial and disgust. But that all changes, seemingly for the worse, when his troubled, teenaged grandson, Andrew, comes to live with him for three weeks. Andrew has been expelled from school for violent behavior. Mead suggests to his daughter, Sharon, a single parent, that he take the boy and straighten him out. When these two troubled souls meet - on their own battlefield - the story begins.
Hull never plays into the obvious here, never quite gives you what you expect you're about to get. He explores this complex relationship, this wide generational divide, without trivializing the emotion, without overstating the obvious. You are taken into the hearts and minds of these two men in painful and often tender ways. The dialogue is exceptionally believable, and as was the case in "Losing Julia," the War scenes are rendered without gloss or pretense. Hull has done his research, and I get the feeling as I did with his first book, that he does not see War as just a patriotic right of passage. Real people. Real pain.
Ultimately this is a story of two men seeking their own unique redemption. How they find it together is the special gift of this book. A great read. I highly recommend it.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Across the Generations 10 Oct 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a great read. Hull captures two very different worlds - that of a troubled teenager and an aging WWII veteran -- and almost magically makes them meet. This is an inspiring tale of a grandfather and grandson that covers the challenges of both adolescence and old age with wit and insight. Hull's WWII scenes are as gripping as his WWI scenes in Losing Julia and a high point of the book.
The Distance From Normandy is hard to put down and the ending is perfect. It's easy to imagine this one on the big screen.
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