Friday, February 11, 2011

Review: Small Wars by Sadie Jones

Images of torture and terror from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo have slid across our tv screens, jumped out of newspapers and magazines, and peppered conversations over the past number of years. How, we wonder, did we come to this, this unacceptable and horrifying state of affair? Has civilization broken down so badly that we can turn a blind eye to this sort of thing unless, and only unless, it is thrust into our common consciousness? Surely tacit approval was not granted. We can not have so lost our moral compass, especially compared to the civilized and relatively humane generations who have waged war before us, can we? Unfortunately, this isn't the case. Not that we have gone so misguided, but that the generations before us weren't just as ruthless and willing to step over the line. War is hell in more ways than one and its damages can be counted in far more than casualty numbers. Loss of innocence, moral breakdown, and silent complicity are all terrible, soul destroying by-products that have been a part of war as long as war has been a part of mankind.

Major Hal Treherne is posted to Cyprus during the 1950's and is joined by his wife Clara and their twin toddler daughters. His war is not to be the enormous consuming war of their fathers, World War II, instead, his war is to be the small war of waning colonialism on this tiny island so vital to the Middle East. He is mostly happy with his command although he longs for more important action than sweeping the local villages for EOKA terrorists. Eventually this vague dissatisfaction starts to seep into his heretofore charmed marriage. Meanwhile, his wife Clara must master herself and her fears about this posting and perhaps her very unsuitability to be an army wife, only relaxing once the family is safely housed on base.

But isolated, violent events occur to shatter the false sense of security for the Treherne family and Hal and Clara react diametrically opposite to each other in the face of these disturbing happenings. At first Hal is exhilerated and blind to Clara's fear and feelings. As he learns more though, Hal's conception of duty and his sense of right and wrong are tested beyond endurance. He is torn between his duty to his country and the men with whom he serves and his own conscience and as he struggles, his life with Clara erodes and becomes unrecognizable until both halves of him, public and private are at the breaking point.

This is a fascinating look at the psychological strain of war and how essentially good people react to it. It counts the damage to intimacy and goodness. Jones allows her characters to judge the scenes they see and hear about without much authorial intrusion at all. Her characters are strong, even when they are crumbling, and they illustrate the timelessness of those news pieces that reach us and so horrify us today. The writing is tight and well-done. The tension slowly grows as the story continues but it grows unevenly, as it would in war: longer stretches of less watchfulness interspersed with brief bursts of pulse-pounding events. The characters are easy to sympathize with as they wrestle with their duties and desires. All in all, a sensitive and powerful story and one I'd highly recommend.

For more information about Sadie Jones be sure to visit this brief interview with Jones.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.


  1. I'm really excited about this book - it sounds like the story has a heck of an impact on the reader. I can't wait to pick this one up for myself!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  2. I thought this book was wonderfully done. It just goes to show you that even those small battles really take a toll, whether internal, personal battles or physical battles like war.

  3. I'm so thrilled to see so many great reviews of this one. I adored it too, and I wish I hadn't waited so long to read it. I'm looking forward to reading her first novel now too!


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