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Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada
My virtue is that I say what I think, my vice that what I think doesn't amount to much.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Evening Chorus

This book by Kingston, Ontario author Helen Humphreys is a tiny gem. It opens with James, an RAF officer, being shot down during his first flight mission at the beginning of World War 2. He is taken prisoner and the German POW camp is a dull place that numbs the spirit. With a few exceptions  the guards respect the terms of the Geneva Convention and the prisoners receive Red Cross packages of treats to keep them going. Some prisoners plot escapes as a way of keeping sane. In order to survive James decides to focus on a family of redstarts, a rare bird in those parts, nesting on a stone wall just beyond the prison fence and documents their comings and goings in a journal. He receives support from an unlikely source, the Kommandant of the camp who was an academic in pre-war life and admires James' dedication to his study of the redstarts.
Rose is the much younger wife of James. The fact that James was going off to war precipitated marriage before they'd had the chance to get to know one another. Once James is captured Rose writes infrequently, gets a dog and a lover.
Enid is the sister of James. When a bombing destroys her London flat and kills her married lover who is also her boss she loses not only her flat but her job and decides to stay with Rose until she can get back on her feet.
The story continues in 1950 with the characters in their new and very different lives. It is a calm and spare novel but each word is used to maximum effect with beautifully developed characters. Humphreys nails love and loss and it seems effortless. I read her novel Wild Dogs  and it touched me in a similar way. I am currently reading a piece of her nonfiction and plan to read everything she has written.

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