Throwback Thursday: The Year Before the War

Originally reviewed in 2017…

I started using NPR’s book concierge and decided to begin with this sweet, sad story of the run-up and beginning of World War I in Britain containing a cast of characters who are by turns loveable, laughable, pitiable, and enviable.  Beatrice Nash is the new school mistress in the village of Rye, championed by Agatha, member of the governing board of the school and local grand dame.  Her nephews, Hugh and Daniel, round out the main characters, with a supporting cast that includes a pompous American writer, the local gentry, the mayor and his wife, the vicar’s photographer daughter and more.  The pacing is wonderful–just slow enough that the reader can savor the sweetness, because we, unlike some of the characters, know what is coming.  Readers will want to cheer for Agatha, who is a heroine in the struggle for women’s rights, but without the rancor which so often accompanies that particular virtue. This is not a simple, beach read–it is far more than that.  There are elements of class struggle, the upheaval caused by world events at the time, and even a few hints of secrets better left alone in a small village. All of this is handled with grace and care by Ms. Simonson, who leaves the reader with equal parts pathos and hope at the end.

This would be a wonderful book club selection, but it is just a great read that will leave one thinking and feeling about the sacrifices of the generations before our own and hopefully grateful for their fortitude in the face of what must have seemed like insurmountable losses. 

Published by Robin Henry

Independent Scholar and Book Coach specializing in Historical Fiction and Literary Fan Fiction.

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