Friday, 23 November 2018

Book Review: So Much Life Left Over by Louis De Bernières

Book: So Much Life Left Over

Author: Louis De Bernières

Pages: 288

Read: The paperback pictured above

Read in: 4 hours or so

Plot Summary: A sweeping, heartbreaking novel following Daniel in his troubled marriage with Rosie as they navigate the unsettled time between the World Wars.

Rosie and Daniel have moved to Ceylon with their little daughter to start a new life at the dawn of the 1920s, attempting to put the trauma of the First World War behind them, and to rekindle a marriage that gets colder every day. However, even in the lush plantation hills it is hard for them to escape the ties of home and the yearning for fulfilment that threatens their marriage.

Back in England, Rosie's three sisters are dealing with different challenges in their searches for family, purpose and happiness. These are precarious times, and they find themselves using unconventional means to achieve their desires. Around them the world is changing, and when Daniel finds himself in Germany he witnesses events taking a dark and forbidding turn.

By turns humorous and tragic, gripping and touching, So Much Life Left Over follows a cast of unique and captivating characters as they navigate the extraordinary interwar years both in England and abroad.

Things I Liked: 

1. The period between the two World Wars in Europe or the UK is not one that has made it into too many books or movies. Of course, you get to read plenty about the Great Depression in the US or the Indian Independence Movement, but not really much about what happened to those who came back from the Great War and the impact of the war on the lives of those, who lost loved ones to it. So, it was interesting that So Much Life Left Over is set between the two World Wars and focuses on both sets of people- the ones who came back alive and the ones whose loved ones didn't make it back. 

2. The book, largely, follows Daniel's life in the years between the wars. We see him as a Tea Garden Manager in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) struggling to connect with his wife, an increasingly challenging enterprise, especially after the birth of their stillborn son. Daniel has lost two brothers and several best friends to the War and he spends all his time working or thinking about golf or flying. He is a good father and a caring husband, but Rosie (his wife) is disinterested in any form of intimacy once they have a second child, which drives Daniel further away from her. Daniel's life is pretty empty and sad. He tries to form meaningful relationships, but Rosie's refusal to give him a divorce holds him back. He is a likeable character, in spite of a truly bizarre journey! 

3. The book also has chapters from the perspective of other survivors of the Great War. We have Rosie's gardener, who was one of the few Prisoners of War to survive the Turkish war. His memories of the Armenian genocide and of the way his fellow comrades were treated are nothing short of horrifying! We also get to see Daniel's brother- a decorated war vet- who spends the rest of his days sweeping the streets of Brighton. So, in that sense, the book does delve into the lives of multiple survivors of the Great War. 

4. The book also delves (a little bit) into the very beginnings of World War II in Germany. As one can expect, we get to see how the Jews were harassed, humiliated and, finally, shipped off to 'ghettos' (that later became concentration camps). 

5. The book is very well written, which is always a good thing. 

Things I Didn't Like:

1. I, honestly, did not understand Rosie. There was very little said from her point of view and whatever was said made no sense. At the beginning of the book, Rosie seems "normal"- a young wife trying to make a new home in Ceylon, but as she starts turning cold towards Daniel, that shift is a little too sudden and there is never any clear reason given for her sudden coldness or her becoming a little too Christian! 

2. The book has several chapters focused on two of Rosie's sisters- one, who is married to a clergyman and the other, who is very openly gay (bohemian is what everyone calls her). I found those characters and their stories quite boring and jarring with the rest of the book. It felt like the author was trying to fit in too much into one book and the whole effort made the narrative seem very disjointed! 

Rating: 3.5/5 
While the book is a bit all over the place, the writing is beautiful and the author has tried to look at the lives of various kinds of people in the years between the wars, which is quite interesting. 

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