Sleeping Through War
The year is 1968. The world is changing. Students are protesting, civil rights are being fought and died for, nuclear bombs are being tested, and war is raging in Vietnam. For three women, life must go on as normal. For them, as it is for most ‘ordinary’ people, just to survive is an act of courage.
Rose must keep her dignity and compassion as a St Lucian nurse in London. Amalia must keep hoping that her son can escape their seedy life in Lisbon. And Mrs Johnson in Washington DC must keep writing to her son in Vietnam. She has no-one else to talk to. Three different women in three different countries. They work, they bring up children, they struggle to make ends meet while the world goes around and the papers print the news. History is written by the winners – and almost all of it has been written by men. The stories of women like these go unremarked and unwritten so often that we forget how important they are.
The title quotation comes from something Amalia observes about her son, Ricardo – how he can sleep through war. Our three lead characters, Amalia, Rose and Mrs Johnson, all experiences ‘wars’ of one sort or another, whether it’s war between cultures, races or actual military conflict. It seems that the whole world is at war in 1968 in one way or another with so much turbulence, social unrest and hostility as well as battles between soldiers. This is what unites these three disparate women.
It’s fascinating to have three such different characters woven together: we have a young Portuguese mother who is doing whatever it takes to earn money to educate her father less son and give him the best start in life she can. Then there is a West Indian nurse who has come to England to work, but isn’t always appreciated. And we have a mother whose son is fighting in Vietnam. She writes newsy, chatty letters to her son, but you can see she’s racked with worry about him.
News reports are interspersed throughout the women’s narrations which give the wider, factual background to their stories.
This is a gentle, poignant read, but that’s not to say that shocking things and cruel twists of fate don’t happen. However, our heroines take events in their stride. Each woman is brave, although each considers themselves to be perfectly ordinary, in the difficult circumstances they find themselves in and cope in what ways they can. It’s the contrast between their apparent normalness and the upheavals they tackle without fuss in their daily lives that is so powerful.
The author has a deft way with words and a sharp eye for detail. It’s the little touches, the smallest o brushstrokes, to the broad canvas of this book that make it so convincing. If you enjoy a book that is rich with imagery, touching, thoughtful, firmly rooted in reality yet imaginative and innovative, then this is one you must treat yourself to.
Link to purchase from Waterstones: https://www.waterstones.com/book/sleeping-through-war/jackie-carreira/9781788038539
Jackie Carreira is an award-winning novelist, playwright, musician, designer, and co-founder of QuirkHouse Theatre Company. A true renaissance woman, or a Jack of All Trades? The jury’s still out on that one. She grew up in Hackney, East London, but spent part of her early childhood in Lisbon’s Old Quarter. Sleeping Through War was inspired, in part, by some of the women she met when she was young. One of her favourite places to write is the coffee shops of railway stations. Her second novel, The Seventh Train (published by Matador in 2019) was born in the café at Paddington Station. Jackie now lives in Suffolk with an actor, two cats and not enough book shelves.
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