Book Review: Of Love And Other Wars By Sophie Hardach


Title: Of Love and Other Wars
Author: Sophie Hardach
Genre: Fiction, Romance, War
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: 29th August 2013
Goodreads Summary: London, 1937. The profoundly moving story of a Quaker family and a Jewish family in love and at war during WWII.
At a rally in the Royal Albert Hall, two Quaker brothers, Paul and Charlie Lamb, sign a pledge of peace that only one of them will honour. Meanwhile, in a draughty Victorian mansion in Hampstead, Mr. Morningstar wonders why his wife, a crystallographer from dynasty of diamond cutters, turns into a cursing somnambulist at night, while their daughter, Miriam, comes home from her shifts at the munitions factory with her stockings inside out.
As the streets throng with khaki, the Lambs and the Morningstars must decide how to do good in a world transformed by evil. Should a scientist use her skills to maximise civilian casualties? Should a Quaker stand by as millions are murdered? And is it possible to love someone if you hate their convictions?
When the two families are torn apart by war, Paul is forced to choose between his conscience and the woman he loves.
Of Love and Other Wars is a profoundly moving tale of faith, longing, and decisions made in the split second of silence between bullets, whose repercussions last a lifetime. With distinctive flair and dazzling creative energy, Sophie Hardach pulls us into lives upended by betrayal, violence and passion.

{ Review }

Of Love and Other Wars attracted me because of its vibrant cover and the high praise from critics plastered all over the book jacket. I have to admit that it wasn’t what I was expecting really as the quoted passage on the back of the book cover does not wholly reflect what this book is all about, despite being one of the most poignant passages from within so in this case, I really wouldn’t judge this book solely by its cover. Of Love and Other Wars is made up of three parts, spanning between 1937 and 1945, the time of the Second World War. Whilst the main characters are said to be Paul and Charlie Lamb, I’d say that this book actually has at least six main characters, Paul, Charlie, Miriam, Esther, Max, Grace. The story is written in the third person, however, it alternates between three plot lines, that of Paul, Charlie and Miriam; Esther and Max; and Esther. All of these story lines overlap but at it’s most basic level you could split it into three parts in this way. The main theme of Of Love and Other Wars is conscientious objection during World War II which is the refusal to bear arms ¬†or to serve in the armed forces during a period of military conflict on moral or religious grounds.

I absolutely flew through Of Love and Other Wars, and not just because it’s a great read, there’s something about it that makes it very ‘readable’, which is curious because the language is not simplistic, nor is the plot or the themes discussed. Throughout the first few passages of this book, I actually found myself looking up several words in the dictionary as they were related to either Quakers or diamond cutting, neither of which are topics that I’m particularly familiar with, so this book really is a learning experience right from the beginning to the end. The majority of the book seems more about exploring ideas rather than an unfolding plot, however, everything starts to come together at the end with lots of twists and turns that had me tearing through to the finale. This book isn’t what I would call ‘exciting’, however, it is most certainly gripping and I found myself really connecting with the characters.

What’s great about this book is that so many different view points are discussed. Sophie Hardach doesn’t impose her own views upon the reader, she merely presents the views of her characters and allows the reader to decide for his or herself at the end of the novel. This book really makes you think about the issues concerning war, but from an angle that not many have explored before. I didn’t particularly like all of the characters but seeing their ways of thinking develop throughout the novel as they experience various different things related to growing up and the war around them was still truly fascinating. Were these characters real, I’m not altogether sure that I would friends with many of them, however, I mostly certainly would respect them and their viewpoints a great deal.

It does take some time to wrap your head around all the different characters, plot lines, viewpoints etc but by about a third of the way through, you find yourself settled into the world that the author has created and it’s only upwards from there. I did struggle a fair bit in the first few chapters and I couldn’t place certain characters as some of them seem to be set in different cities or time periods but as I said, it just takes some getting used to. As the events in this novel almost span over a decade, there are some time jumps in this novel, but miraculously, these are barely noticeable. The author goes into immense amount of detail over seemingly small events that, upon greater reflection, turn out to be rather large events and thus time is not linear, and does not need to be, in this story.

If I could think of one word to describe this novel, difficult though that may be, I’d probably choose the word ‘poignant’. Not all passages of this book were that impressive in terms of writing style and prose but every so often, I’d come across some of the most beautiful passages I have ever read. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a romance novel despite the fact that a lot of the relationships between characters are of a romantic nature as Hardach manages to talk about love in way that isn’t soppy in the slightest, but rather the sort of love that creeps up on, so as a reader you’re not even really conscious of it until you’re right in the middle of it.

I have to admit that I didn’t know that conscientious objection was even a thing before I read this novel. In the back of my edition of this book there was a short interview with the author who stated that one of the reasons that she wrote this novel is because she was fascinated by this idea, one that does not exist in Germany, where she comes from and I think that in itself proves that this is something that *everyone* should read. Although many serious and thought-provoking issues are discussed, this book isn’t too heavy so don’t shy away from it.

All in all, I’d highly recommend Of Love and Other Wars to everyone. I firmly believe that this is a must-read as it is thought-provoking and moving novel that makes the reader really consider and explore his or her own ideas about war, an important issue at any time, in every country. You don’t really feel the full impact of this novel until you’ve read the very last sentence and you take a second to reflect upon what the author has written. If you’d asked me what I thought of this novel as I was reading, I would’ve probably given it an average review but upon finishing it, I realised just how special this story is. Hardach mixes a gripping plot with beautiful writing to create a real modern masterpiece and if you haven’t already read this book then I would urge you to as soon as possible!

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