It is May 1968. Students are rioting, civil rights are being fought and died for, nuclear bombs are being tested, and war is raging in Vietnam. For three ordinary women in Lisbon, London and Washington life must go on as usual. For them, just to survive is an act of courage. How much has really changed in fift years?
The title quotation comes from something Amalia observes about her son, Ricardo – how he sleeps so soundly, 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 for you.
Just one negative comment, which concerns the book’s presentation and most definitely not its creative content. The narrations of two of the women are delivered in italic text, which I didn’t feel was necessary but which accounts for about two thirds of the book. Personally I don’t find italic text the easiest thing to read and it is a little off-putting when used for long passages.
About the author
Jackie Carreira is a writer, musician, designer, co-founder of QuirkHouse Theatre Company, and award-winning playwright. She mostly grew up and went to school in Hackney, East London, but spent part of her early childhood with grandparents in Lisbon’s Old Quarter. Her colourful early life has greatly influenced this novel. Jackie now lives in leafy Suffolk with her actor husband, AJ Deane, two cats and too many books.
Social Media Links – FACEBOOK: @SleepingThroughWar