Book Review: Lovely War by Julie Berry

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44107480It’s 1917, and World War I is at its zenith when Hazel and James first catch sight of each other at a London party. She’s a shy and talented pianist; he’s a newly minted soldier with dreams of becoming an architect. When they fall in love, it’s immediate and deep–and cut short when James is shipped off to the killing fields.
Aubrey Edwards is also headed toward the trenches. A gifted musician who’s played Carnegie Hall, he’s a member of the 15th New York Infantry, an all-African-American regiment being sent to Europe to help end the Great War. Love is the last thing on his mind. But that’s before he meets Colette Fournier, a Belgian chanteuse who’s already survived unspeakable tragedy at the hands of the Germans.

Thirty years after these four lovers’ fates collide, the Greek goddess Aphrodite tells their stories to her husband, Hephaestus, and her lover, Ares, in a luxe Manhattan hotel room at the height of World War II. She seeks to answer the age-old question: Why are Love and War eternally drawn to one another? But her quest for a conclusion that will satisfy her jealous husband uncovers a multi-threaded tale of prejudice, trauma, and music and reveals that War is no match for the power of Love. 

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“I envy the mortals. It’s because they’re weak and damaged that they can love.”

Lovely War is an emotional and refreshing tale on love, friendship, and the hardships of war. The book is unlike anything I’ve ever read as it combines the horrific historical events from World War I with a very vulnerable portrayal of the Greek Gods.

It all starts with Aphrodite, the goddess of love, who is trying to teach her husband a lesson on what it means to truly love someone by recounting tales of her best ‘works’ – two love stories that are beautifully interconnected. What’s striking from the very beginning is how dedicated and emotionally invested the goddess is. Usually, Aphrodite is depicted as being self-centred, vain, and quite vindictive, but here, she is empathetic and attuned to the sufferings of the mortals. With the four protagonists, though, it would be harder even for an Olympian not to root for them.

First there is Hazel and James, a talented pianist and a newly recruited soldier who meet and fall in love at first sight only to be ripped apart shortly afterwards because he has to go to France to fight the Germans. Their chemistry is tangible from the start, the way they tease each other and have this deeper understanding of one another makes it very easy for the reader to root for them to end up together. They are the definition of sweet young love. Then there is Colette and Aubrey, she’s a Belgian singer who has gone through a lot and lost so many of her dear ones in the war, while he’s a Black pianist and a soldier from the all African-American regiment. I loved how they constantly challenged each other, yet had so much support and admiration for the skills the other possessed. Colette was so bold and vivacious and Aubrey was funny and charismatic, but when they were together, they became vulnerable and were just themselves without any defences. Besides that, I think their stories were very important as they represent parts of the history that aren’t discussed very often like The Rape of Belgium or the role of black soldiers in the World War I and the prejudices they had to face.

The writing was beautiful and the concept of having Greek Gods narrate World War I love stories was quite brilliant! It’s obvious that the book is well researched and that even the minor sub-plots are thoroughly planned out. The romances and friendships are tender and will surely warm your heart. I adored the dynamics between the soldiers in the 15th New York Infantry, Aubrey’s regiment, as they were so united and dynamic. Sometimes I felt like I could imagine how their music would sound like and how the general atmosphere at one of their concerts would be absolutely electric. The friendship between Colette and Hazel was also very lovely considering how well they complimented each other through their almost opposite personalities. I also adored how art was such a central part of all their relationships, Colette, Hazel, and Aubrey were all connected by their love for music, while James wanted to become an architect.

Most importantly, Berry deals with racism, mental health issues, and trauma in a very thoughtful way. The terrible effects of war are evident and they aren’t brushed off or minimised in any way. There is so much injustice and so much suffering in this book, yet the tone remains hopeful at all times – you just know that the good will triumph in the end.

Lovely War is about human connection, how important it gets in times of peril to have someone who will wait for you, support you and ultimately, love you unconditionally. The book seems to tell its readers that while humans definitely have their faults and prejudices, which can bring horrible consequences, love in all its forms will always be more powerful and conquer in the end.

 

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Have you read Lovely War? 

Are you a lover of Historical Fiction? What books would you recommend?

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