In the midst of World War I, a relationship develops between an English lieutenant and a young Russian nurse—a surprising tenderness against the backdrop of war.
With elements reminiscent of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Griffis’ (The Big Bang: Volume One of The Lonesome George Chronicles, 2008) first book of a two-part series, subtitled “The Old World,” features English lieutenant Robert meeting 18-year-old Russian nurse Charlotte Braninov as she tends to a severely wounded soldier at a Casualty Clearing Station during the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917. While she considers Robert chivalrous from the outset, she initially tries to ignore any thoughts of romance, given their setting; she knows her focus must be on tending to the injured soldiers. But when their paths cross again shortly after at the base hospital where they are both stationed to work, several seemingly small incidents reveal Robert’s true character to Charlotte, and a romance develops. Their courtship is not without challenges, though; the hospital is under constant threat of attack, and Robert’s career has all but stalled. His assignment at the hospital is a form of punishment for an incident on the battlefield. Griffis provides rich detail about the action, both in war scenes and in the calmer interactions between Robert and Charlotte, but the reader must often piece together the story, as at times the nonlinear storytelling is disorienting with each of the five parts of the book taking place in a different location and often in different timeframes. It isn’t always clear at the outset whether the scene is set in present day or in previous weeks or even years. Yet, the level of detail helps to overcome this difficulty. While the focus is heavily plot-oriented rather than deep explorations of the characters, the reader gets a glimpse into the characters’ beliefs and values in the way they interact with each other and in how they carry out their official duties. Still, the reader is left wanting to know more about the characters and, as a result, the story feels incomplete.
Readers must wait until Book Two to complete the picture, but with likable characters, spending more time in the Old World is an appealing prospect.