A story about the aftermath of World War 1, ‘The Heroes’ Welcome’ picks up seamlessly where the first book left off. I would not recommend reading this one without reading ‘My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You’ first. I didn’t like this one as much, so unless you really love Young’s expressive prose, you could just stick with the first book which features the true story of amazing medical work pioneered by the father of plastic surgery, Harold Gillies in Sidcup, UK.
In this second novel the war is over, but the after affects are apparent for those who carry on with physical and emotional scars. Long before PTSD had a name, those who had survived war, would continue to suffer. Riley is the most inspiring character as he copes with returning to a normal life after the miraculous facial reconstruction by Dr. Gillies. However, just as in the children’s book Wonder, people are affected by their looks and it is so hard for someone with a severe disability or disfigurement to get others to see past that. Young does a good job of exploring all angles of this experience and of this time in history.
This year marks 100 years since the start of the First World War. There have been many events to commemorate this. The one that touched me the most was the sea of poppies planted around the Tower of London. Not only was it an impressive artistic display in the city and an incredible object lesson, but also so symbolic. From a distance all of the poppies looked exactly the same, as if dressed in uniform (like soldiers). But the poppies were actually all hand crafted ceramic works of art that were all uniquely different from each other.
A woman wakes up in a gangrenous WW1 field hospital with no memory of who she is or how she got there. There is shrapnel in her feet and she is wearing a British medical uniform, but her accent is American. She remembers driving an ambulance for the war effort, she knows she can draw, and she thinks her name is Stella Bain. As Stella embarks on a journey to figure out her present, she encounters her past as well as her future. Issues of PTSD and how the human spirit can rally in the face of trauma is central to the novel. This is the weakest of the novels I have read by her. I found it lacking in her usual ability to create atmosphere. Some of the story developments seemed contrived and the ending was all too predictable.
Anita Shreve (one of those authors whose name is larger on the cover of the book than the title) has written almost 20 novels. I’ve read almost a dozen of them including Light on Snow. She’s a good storyteller and her novels are usually deliciously dark with many of the same themes running through all of them. Her website is very helpful in that regard, with information nicely given about characters and themes in case you didn’t catch something. (Anita Shreve Website)
- A moment in life that can change everything.
- An unconventional woman who finds a reserve of previously untapped strength.
- Loss and grief, being pushed to the edge.
- A description of a home becoming a reflection of the characters.
- Water as both dangerous and comforting.
The Shreve books I’ve enjoyed the most are The Pilot’s Wife, The Weight of Water, and Fortune’s Rocks. This one is actually a loose sequel to All He Ever Wanted, which I have not read but might pick up now as a flashback.