It gives me great pleasure today to be on the book birthday blitz for Jackie Carreira’s ‘Sleeping Through War’. Many thanks to Rachel Gilbey from Rachel’s Random Resources for including me, and to the author for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed as a reader; honestly, individually and impartially.
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.
1968 was a year of extraordinary political turmoil across the world. The Vietnam War was being lost and being exposed as such, despite all assurances to the contrary from the men in charge, comfortable in Washington DC. The civil rights movement was mobilised, and juxtaposed against this extraordinarily tumultuous backdrop, the lives of three women are the focus of this poignant and thought-provoking story. Womanhood, motherhood and sisterhood are the pertinent themes.
The women’s accounts are all presented differently. Amalia’s story is told in the third person, Rose’s in the first and Mrs. Johnson’s, through a series of letters written to her son, who has been posted to Vietnam.
Amalia, in Lisbon, is a wonderful mother, but having suffered widowhood in her 20s she is forced to make sufficient money to support her young son in the only way she knows how. She shows enormous strength and I admired her for the tough decisions she makes.
Rose, in London, travelled to work as a nurse from St. Lucia during Harold Wilson’s time as prime minister when he encouraged workers in from abroad, stating that the time for racial prejudice was over. Sadly, the will of the general public is slower to catch up, and Rose tolerates casual and overt racism with extraordinary stoicism. Her friendship with Brenda, and the manner in which she undertakes her job, show her extraordinary kindness and thoughtfulness, and I loved her.
Mrs. Johnson broke my heart. Her rambling letters to her son, who she is missing terribly, are all the things she wants to say to her husband, but can’t. The public demonstrations against the war are affecting her very deeply, and her private correspondence to her son reflects her turmoil. Enormously poignant.
Most of us, I think, prefer our lives to be quite small and to retain our privacy and dignity where we can. Reading about other lives which are lived in the same way was an emotionally exposing experience, and I don’t mind one bit admitting that I had a little cry when I had finished reading.
‘Sleeping Through War’ is so well-written, thoughtful and compassionate. It really demonstrates that during a time when the rulebook is effectively being torn up, the effects have not filtered through the layers of patriarchal strata to let more than a drop or two fall upon the lives of these three women.
I enjoyed it immensely, and highly recommend Sleeping Through War. In actual fact, my mum popped over today and I’ve downloaded this on to her Kindle.
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 bookshelves.
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