4 Stars: Strongly Recommended
Many thanks goes out to Graywolf Press for allowing me a copy of this book for review. I have mentioned in a past review that I tend to steer clear of books that deal in and around war, however @totesmarisa swore by Jessica Francis Kane's novel and talked me into giving it a shot. And I am so thankful that I did.
While The Report does partially take place during World War II, it's focus is solely on the Bethnal Green London Tube Disaster, in which 173 civilians died in a horrific accident on the steps of an air raid shelter.
Jessica does a brilliant job of creating a fictional version of the events that took place on that terrible night in March 1943.
She draws us in using sparse, specific prose to guide us through the panicked London streets as that fateful air siren went off, ushering the townspeople towards the shelter, and onto the crowded staircase... enabling us to visualize the slip and crush of bodies on the steps of the tube entrance, the suffocating death of those unfortunate souls who were unable to escape the twisted mess of bodies that piled one on top of the other in an effort to get under cover from the bombs they thought were coming.
She allowed us to listen to the interviews that were conducted, the survivors and shelter volunteers recounting what they remembered of that night, where they were, what they thought was going on, how they attempted to help, or walk away alive. We understood the frustration that Magistrate Laurence Dunne felt when each testimony seemed to contradict the one that came before.
She introduces us to the cover-up, the true details of the event that took place on those steps in the stairwell, the real story spoken to him by an innocent eight year old girl, a truth that Dunne knew should never be revealed to the public.
She plagues her characters with guilt, and shame, crippling loss, and a fierce determination to make things right.
To think that people once had to live in a state of blackout - heavy curtains drawn over windows, no lights allowed after dark - and struggle with food and flower bans, to live every moment in fear of the enemy dropping bombs on their town, rushing to the nearest shelter when the air raid sirens went off, scurrying and cramming into underground tube stations until given the all clear... To think that this was once a normal way to live.
I could not imagine living a life like that, let alone raising a child through it all. My generation is so far removed from that type of fear. We have been spoiled by free wi-fi, and gourmet coffee, and designer sunglasses. We cry and pout if we can't have what we want the moment we want it.
Jessica's novel helped me to gain a greater appreciation of the life I am living today, and opened my eyes to the way the world used to be. Her book encouraged me to research a moment in time that, up until I began reading The Report, I never even knew existed.