An American college student extends his year abroad in Thatcher-ite England and takes a position assisting a quadriplegic in New York Times reporter Weisman’s debut novel.
In love and not in any hurry to leave Brighton, David Heller stays after classes end and takes a volunteer placement as caregiver for Hans Bromwell. Hans, son of the late Tory politician Sir Gordon Bromwell, lives with his sister, Elizabeth, and niece, Cristina, and a dwindling collection of family heirlooms. As children, Hans attended the finest schools while Elizabeth, alone at home, learned from a tutor “who knew nothing but Shakespeare.” As a very young woman, she escaped on holiday with her cousin, fell for a Portuguese doctor who was charmed by her habit of quoting the Bard incessantly, and married. She and Hans exchanged letters while she traveled to Africa, where her new husband was posted “to win the hearts and minds” of Portugal’s colonies as they fought for independence. David finds himself drawn into the siblings’ story, and Cristina’s, just as his own family is pressuring him to come home. Weisman pulls the Bromwells’ story and David’s together, creating a cleareyed study of relationships and grief, touching on both personal and societal tragedies without letting the narrative bog down. A tiny quibble is that David explains British English a fair bit: "She…reached over to put on a bathrobe (dressing gown, she'd say)." The novel succeeds as historical fiction portraying Africa’s colonial wars in the 1970s and England’s social upheaval in the 1980s and as the story of young people facing the world as it is and not as they’ve hoped it would be. Weisman’s prose is clear and evocative with plenty of detail but no unnecessary flourishes.
A fresh, enlightening book, complex, emotionally resonant, and readable.