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on 20 December 2010
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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on 12 April 2011
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. Much is said about the human instinct to find someone to blame, about how those who are ready to accept blame often accept more than they should, and about how apportioning blame is not really a resolution.

And, maybe most importantly, I saw the lives of Jessica Kane's characters. I understood their words and their actions, their strengths and their weaknesses. They were flawed, vulnerable human beings.

I saw the world they lived in, the terrible event they lived through and had to live with. And I learned from it.

Thirty years after the event a young filmmaker, whose family was affected by the tragedy, interviews Sir Lawrence Dunne for a documentary about the tragedy.

Another dimension, it brought a different perspective, and it tied things together nicely, with a devastating final revelation.

The Report is such a vivid human story, a beautifully written book that made me feel and made me think.

And it is a story that will stay with me.
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on 20 May 2012
This was our book club choice so had to persevere with it even though I really was not enjoying the book. Was exactly what the title explained A Report. We all found it very hard work, we were waiting for the characters to develop and become interesting but this never happened. Think it lost its way about half way through and so did we!! Not one to recommend.
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During the Blitz in London in 1943, an extraordinary event took place in Bethnal Green. On March 3, 1943, when the air raid warning sirens went off, thousands of people headed, as usual, toward the nearest bomb shelter, the local Tube station, a one-entrance location which could accommodate up to ten thousand people within a few minutes of their arrival. Some had come here many times and knew that they could reserve cots and places to sleep for the night. Others just took their chances, hoping that the emergency would not last long and that they would be able to return home soon afterward. On this night, something unique happened. One hundred seventy-three people died of asphyxia within a minute of their arrival, all suffocated in the crush on the first twenty stairs of the entrance. Ironically, "not a single bomb had fallen in the city that night."

Author Jessica Francis Kane, who studied the original government inquiry into the reasons for this catastrophe, draws on the facts of the real Bethnal Green case to create a fictionalized version of what went wrong. The actual facts, gathered and put into a report by Sir Laurence Dunne within three weeks of the events, had been hushed up by the government so as not to alarm the people or create questions about the government's ability to handle crises. Wanting to avoid placing blame on people who might become scapegoats, he had written his report with a concern for human feelings and for what humans need in order to deal with disasters during fraught times such as war. "Perhaps," he suggests, "we should only sometimes be held accountable for the unintended consequences of our actions."

A cast of repeating characters becomes more and more developed as the action proceeds. The attitudes toward refugees, especially Jews, affect the perceptions of some of the witnesses, while others, actively involved in the protection of lives during the Blitz, assume blame which was really not theirs to assume. Kane carefully reveals the facts of the case, but she does so within the context of the lives of her characters, always showing how and why these people say and do what they do. The characters elicit sympathy, and when all the details are known, the reader feels the same sorts of conflicts that Sir Laurence Dunne felt when he wrote his report.

Kane does a remarkable job of revealing the feelings of these characters for others who have been involved, and their feelings for the more general needs of the community, regardless of the strict definitions of right and wrong. She writes clearly and succinctly and avoids flights of sentimentality, always showing the big picture, the big moral issues, and the big questions of responsibility. A fine novel, The Report offers a different way of looking at historical events--rationally, but with a kindness toward the participants which protects their integrity and their future lives. "Speculative journalism" and the rush to blame are not yet a way of life at this time. Mary Whipple
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VINE VOICEon 20 October 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I was looking forward to reading this book as it was about something relatively recent in history, and also something I knew nothing about. However I found it confusing as the story seems to jump about quite a lot and I had to keep referring back to check who was who. There seem to be several sub plots weaving through it, which unfortunately I struggled to keep up with. The characterisation I found good, but to be honest I almost didn't finish it as I'd lost interest and concentration about three quarters of the way through. I quite literally lost the plot. It is actually well written and the factual element of it is excellent, but I would have enjoyed it much more had it been less complicated.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 27 March 2011
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. The novel has spurred my interest and I intend to read the official report of the tragedy (Tragedy at Bethnal Green, 1943 (Uncovered Editions)), which Kane cites as the starting point for this book.

For me the only jarring note was a quotation from the 9/11 Commission Report as one of the book's epigraphs, as I think it made a spurious connection between the two events. However, I would be interested to know what other readers think.

[In March 2012 work started outside Bethnal Green Station on the Stairway to Heaven Memorial, a sculpture to commemorate the victims of the disaster.]
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VINE VOICEon 20 April 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I really wanted to like this book but, sadly, for me it wasn't a page turner.
I love World War 2 history both from a military point of view and also from a social perspective of what it was like for ordinary families to live through years of uncertainty and impending terror.
The Report tells the true story of a terrible tragedy during The Blitz that was censored by the British Government so as not to damage morale. The author does a good job of recounting the factual account but interweaves with so many characters, I quickly lost interest.
I am an avid reader and usually have two or three books on the go at any one time - but this one didn't capture my full attention and in the end it became a chore to read.
Despite this, I think it deserves to be read as it provides a harrowing account of a horrific event and a search for justice, hence the 3*.
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on 30 May 2012
Well, based on the reviews I had high hopes for this book...good but it could have been so much better. A wonderful idea somewhat wasted and again ( I could scream) please will agents and editors do their job... and point out the flaws that any creative writing school would?

Wonderful idea - I had heard of the disaster - and was prepared for a story of the characters involved with all the build-up...and we get some of that...the scenes in the investigation are gripping and well-written and for that alone I am glad I bought this book.

But does that make up for the rest? This could have been 5 stars but the editor clearly missed the problems with the story going back and forth and the pace. The whole thing feels as if it was written in a day and it clearly was not. more prologues, no more first person....and no more going back and forth...all in vogue now but sloppy, easy writing.

The going back and forth loses us and the prologue nearly turned me off but I treked took 3 chapters before I found this worthwhile and that is not good enough.

And the disaster is over in a little build up and so we don't engage.

A wasted opportunity and this writer has some way to go in the craft to get a 5 star book. In my opinion. Excellent in some ways...tedious in so many others and quite without reason. This should have been a very good book...not an average one.
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on 28 September 2012
The Report is based on a real life incident where almost 200 people were crushed to death as they entered the tube station at Bethnal Green to shelter from an air raid during the second world war. Although only one character is based on a real person (the writer of the report into the disaster) most of the factors which contributed to the disaster are based on facts.

The factor which was fictional is written well to fit into the real events which surround it. As a reader you can see how it might have been true.

There is little I can really say without giving away the secrets included in this book but it does keep you guessing almost right up to the end. It is possible to work things out by yourself although as a reader you cannot work out exactly how events would pan out.

There is a certain sense that Kane could have made more out of what she turns into a major contributing factor, most of what is interesting about it is waiting for the `facts' to be revealed. Why that factor came about however stays somewhat of a mystery and I would have been interested to find out more about it.

Having said that the text is rather emotive and it made me want to find out more about the disaster.
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VINE VOICEon 15 March 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
At the time of the Bethnal Green underground air raid shelter disaster I was a four year old living in London. In retrospect I can in some ways understand why the government suppressed publication of the report until after the war ended. Like many other adults my mother was terrified of the bombing and the possible consequences,so any news of the scale of the tragedy would undoubtedly have tipped her over the edge of reason. I bought HMSO's 'Tragedy at Bethnal Green' just after it was published and was very moved by its content. Jessica Francis Kane has, to my mind at least, done a wonderful job in bringing this tragedy to the notice of the book reading public via the medium of the novel. For me it is well crafted, held my interest from beginning to end, and brought a plausible explanation as to how the might have tragedy happened, something which was not evident in the original report. When I was reading the novel there were times when I felt I was present at the enquiry listening to Laurence Dunne's questioning and the replies given by the witnesses who came forward. The characterisation of the Rev.McNeely was particularly moving because he felt himself inadequate in many ways, lacking in skills necessary for a vicar in those times of great need. The drawing together of the enquiry and the documentary made 30 or so years later by a man who had been a young baby who survived the disaster and who was adopted by another survivor who lost one of her children at the time was very well done. Blame, loss and heroism are the three words which come to mind as just three of the words I would use to describe the essence of the novel. My one and only criticism would be the title 'The Report' - yes that is what the story is all about, but with a bland title like that I feel many people would on seeing that not give the book another thought. I have always been interested in anything to do with the Second World War and especially the London Blitz so 'The Report' is a worthy addition to my collection.
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