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The Report [Paperback]

Jessica Francis Kane
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 Jan 2012
It is an early spring evening in 1943 when the air-raid sirens wail out over the East End of London. From every corner of Bethnal Green, people emerge from pubs, cinemas and houses and set off for the shelter of the tube station. But at the entrance steps, something goes badly wrong, the crowd panics, and 173 people are crushed to death. When an enquiry is called for, it falls to the local magistrate, Laurence Dunne, to find out what happened during those few, fatally confused minutes. But as Dunne gathers testimony from the guilt-stricken warden of the shelter, the priest struggling to bring comfort to his congregation, and the grieving mother who has lost her youngest daughter, the picture grows ever murkier. The more questions Dunne asks, the more difficult it becomes to disentangle truth from rumour - and to decide just how much truth the damaged community can actually bear. It is only decades later, when the case is reopened by one of the children who survived, that the facts can finally be brought to light ...

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Portobello Books Ltd (5 Jan 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 1846272807
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846272806
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 77,008 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'A sober, thoughtful book that asks how history views the responsibilities of authorities in times of tragedy.' --Metro, ****

'An artful piece of work ... As a documentary novel, The Report gains from the virtues of both forms.' --Times Literary Supplement

`A smart and troubling novel of ideas which explores the power of crowds and collective guilt' --Financial Times

'An astute and subtle meditation on whether a written account of a traumatic event can ever satisfy all its objectives' --Telegraph

'Composed yet rawly emotional ... An East End ravaged by the blitz is powerfully recreated'
--Guardian --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

JESSICA FRANCIS KANE is author of an acclaimed story collection, Bending Heaven (Chatto, 2002). Her work has appeared in a number of US publications, including McSweeney's, The Missouri Review, and Michigan Quarterly Review. She lives in New York with her husband and two children.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
55 of 56 people found the following review helpful
The novel is based around the report of an inquiry into the deaths from suffocation, in 1943, of 173 people in a crush at the entrance to an underground station used as an air-raid shelter in Bethnal Green, East London. The siren had sounded but no air-raid materialised. A respected magistrate, Laurence Dunne, was commissioned to write a report for the government and this he did in three weeks, interviewing witnesses, rescuers and officials.

Predominantly through the eyes of eight-year old Tilley, her mother Ada, young clerk Bertram, vicar McNeely, and warden Low we are taken through the events and emotions and fears of the period. Thirty years on Tilley's adopted brother, Paul, is making a documentary film of the tragedy and interviews the report's author. The conflicts between the elderly retired magistrate who wanted his report to bring an understanding of the tragedy rather than allot blame and the young filmmaker who still sees in black and white, truth and wrongness, are well observed. "Your parents said that I knew the crowd wasn't guilty. ... What's the opposite of guilty?', "Innocent?" "Well, they weren't that, either."

Herbert Morrison, the government minister remembered only for his shelter, sat on the report and it wasn't published until after the war. In 1943 I was seven, lived in the London suburbs only about 16 miles from Bethnal Green, was an avid listener to the news on the wireless (and slept many nights in a Morrison shelter). Yet the real tragic events described were new to me. Bad news did not escape government censorship. Likewise a first to me was a description of sewing circles making topographical quilts of German landscapes for the Royal Air Force.

Jessica Francis Kane has woven her characters, their feelings, emotions, reasons, opinions and fears into a compelling novel which I found difficult to put down.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A forgotten tragedy 27 Mar 2011
By Eleanor TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The Bethnal Green tube station disaster was Britain's worst wartime loss of civilians. On the 3rd of March 1943 a crush occurred among those trying to access the station which was being used as an air raid shelter; 173 people died. This novel is a fictionalized account of the event and its aftermath with the action alternating between 1943 and 1973. Its themes include the psychology of crowds, the way in which we impose a story on events, and the need for people to apportion blame.

I thought this was a brilliant book: quiet, clever, and thoughtful, but having a strong emotional effect. Kane convincingly recreates the fraught wartime atmosphere of Bethnal Green, as well as its repercussions thirty years on. The horror of the crush and the grief of the characters felt hideously real and Kane pulls no punches in exploring the unpleasant side of human nature, but also the idea that 'people aren't as bad as the worst thing they do'. The author is American but the English setting and the dialogue felt authentic and I don't think she put a foot wrong; I have read books where this is not the case and the results can be excruciating.

At one point Kane writes: "The tragedy does not remain the story. As with any public property it is transformed by use.". This novel is based on a real event and some of its victims are still alive, as are the relatives of the dead, and it would be interesting to know what they make of it. The author's note explains that much has been fictionalized and I think it is important to bear that in mind given some of the revelations in the book. I'm glad, however, that this event has been written about, especially as it was hushed up during the war and a commemorative plaque was only put up in the station itself in 1993.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
"The Bethnal Green Tube shelter disaster took place on the evening of Wednesday March 3, 1943.

173 people died in a terrifying crush as panic spread through the crowds of people trying to enter the station's bomb shelter in the East End of London.

However, no bomb struck and not a single casualty was the direct result of military aggression, making it the deadliest civilian incident of World War Two."

Jessica Francis Kane, read the full historical transcript of the enquiry into this, the worst civilian disaster of the Second World War, and she used what she read as the basis of her debut novel, a wonderfully vivid picture of people living through the event and its aftermath.

She tells her story through a number of characters: A mother who lost her younger daughter; her elder daughter, who survived but would not speak; the warden of the shelter, devastated by what has happened; a young man who was delayed, who wonders if he might have been able to make a difference;a vicar, looking for answers, wanting to offer comfort and support...

All of their stories are beautifully observed, with just the right details picked to illuminate those lives. A hand held too tightly. A wireless turned up to mask a conversation. A breakfast left untouched. The picture is clear, and it is moving without ever becoming sentimental.

It falls to Lawrence Dunne, the local magistrate, to investigate and report on what happened. A fundamentally good man, he wanted to understand, he wanted lessons to be learned, and he wanted to show understanding of what people had been through, of what they had to endure in wartime conditions.

His story added another dimension.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars instead of telling the story where by we meet characters who we learn...
For anybody with an interest in the lives of those on the Homefront during WW2 this may be of interest. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Ejcb12
5.0 out of 5 stars A quiet triumph
This is an extraordinary achievement of re-imagination of a single incident in the Second World War, the Bethnal Green Tube disaster of 1943. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Stephen
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking
Having worked in Bethnal Green in the 70's and having visited relatives there in the 50's, this book brought out the character and spirit of the people. Read more
Published 8 months ago by catflap
4.0 out of 5 stars What is fact and what is fiction?
A fictionalised version of a true story. Surprisingly this was the largest single casualty of WW2 and yet was not due to bombing, is little known and has taken an American to write... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Book chatter
5.0 out of 5 stars Factually correct?
I really enjoyed this. I had, of course, heard about this incident and was interested to read more about it. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars The Dubious Value of Blame
Jessica Francis Kane's first novel is a fictionalized account of a real disaster that took place at Bethnal Green Underground Station in 1943 - on the evening of an airraid, the... Read more
Published 20 months ago by Kate Hopkins
5.0 out of 5 stars Reflective and thought provoking
This book gives a good insight to this often little unknown tragedy. When you think it was the largest loss of life on the underground and involved the deaths of over sixty... Read more
Published 20 months ago by Ian Tulloch
4.0 out of 5 stars Fictional retelling of a real event handled really well
I enjoyed this fictional account of the Bethnal Green disaster of 1943. The underground station that was under construction at the time was used as an air raid shelter during the... Read more
Published 21 months ago by B. Robinson
5.0 out of 5 stars very good
very good pleased ( i will not write words that I do not want to write even to make it 17 words)
Published 21 months ago by G. poa
4.0 out of 5 stars A book that weaves fact and fiction together effortlessly
I was interested in the theme of the book, set in relatively recent history and knowing very little of the tragedy itself, it took very little getting into, there were a handful of... Read more
Published 22 months ago by Charlie&Molly
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