Engaging Historical Fiction

I am not one who likes to read dry historical tomes. I like to absorb my history through the

sugar coated pill of historical fiction, written by an author whose research is meticulous. And in this genre, Louis de Bernieres is a master.

His works include books such as Birds Without Wings and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. The latter book is set on a Greek Island during the Second World War. It was made into a major motion picture starring the unbelievably stellar cast of Nicolas Cage, John Hurt, Penélope Cruz, Christian Bale and Irene Papas – it’s worth checking out.

De Bernieres’s 2004 novel Birds Without Wings is a lovely story of an Anatolian Village set against the backdrop of the traumatic birth of the modern nation of Turkey. If you have ever travelled to Turkey, or plan to, you will find that this book will give you a better understanding of the people and the culture you meet there.

De Bernieres has the rare ability to describe the great sweep of human history through the very personal stories of real and loveable characters.

His latest novel, The Dust That Falls from Dreams, was published in 2015 and follows three families who are neighbours in Court Road, Eltham, an area southeast of London, from the golden years after the coronation of Edward VII in 1901 through the First World War and its aftermath.

The family in the middle house contained four girls: Rosie, Ottilie, Christabel and Sophie. On either side lived families of boys: Daniel and Archie on one side, and Ash, Sidney and Albert on the other. The children formed an unassailable unit known as “The Pals.”

Young romance bloomed at a very tender age between Rosie and Ash, who became engaged as children and remained devoted to each other.

But then World War I arrived and destroyed this idyll. De Bernieres recreates the relentless patriotism that drove all the boys to enlist and all the girls to take up essential occupations (such as nursing) “for the cause.” These feelings of noble sacrifice soon deteriorate into cynical fatalism under the reality of stinking trenches and broken bodies.

Ash and his brother have the worst of it in the trenches of France, while Rosie waits at home with the awful fear and anxiety that mothers and sweethearts always suffer in times of war.

Daniel, on the other hand, becomes a fighter pilot; and while he also sees his share of blood and death, he is compensated by the glorious ability to soar and dip through mountains of cloud and beams of sunshine.

The story continues to follow The Pals as they cope with the surprising flatness of the post-war years. Even with all of the sorrows and danger, during the war they were fully engaged with life and part of a higher purpose.

Although the subject of the book is serious, the author writes with humour and such a light touch that it is thoroughly enjoyable to curl up with these engaging characters.

The novel The Dust That Falls from Dreams is available through the Yukon Public Library system.

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