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Small Wars by Sadie Jones
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Small Wars (original 2009; edition 2010)

by Sadie Jones

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Member:izzybee
Title:Small Wars
Authors:Sadie Jones
Info:Vintage (2010), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 480 pages
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Small Wars by Sadie Jones (2009)

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Set in 1956 Cyprus, just prior to the start of the Suez Crisis, this story really packs quite the punch. What I found amazing is how well Jones balances the emotional roller coaster ride of the plot with the more subdued, rather understated prose. The raw emotional energy of Hal and Clara is there, lashing like an electric current, but constrained in a stoic English facade of repression and lack of honest communication. The story is multifaceted as Jones bares to the reader the inner thoughts, emotions and turmoil of her main characters. The story vividly captures the growing unrest of Cypriates under colonial British rule of the time period and the rising terrorist activities of EOKA (Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston) which the British were struggling to contain. The narrator, Stephen Hoye, does an amazing job, making it easy for me to understand the emotions of Hal and Clara. Sadly, the ending fell flat for me, rather anticlimactic compared to the prior bits and left me at a loss as to how I felt about the story. I found Hal to be a rather frustrating character and even felt compelled to reach out and slap him across the face at one point, which I won't go into because that would mean revealing spoilers. Suffice to say, it is a well crafted story that really gets under the skin of its main characters, giving the reader much to contemplate. ( )
  lkernagh | Jul 31, 2014 |
Small wars are military conflicts that are confined to one small country, or area, of the world. By no means are they any less dangerous than large major wars. SMALL WARS is set on the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean against the background of one such small war in the 1950s. The EOKA terrorists are fighting for independence from Britain and union with Greece. But as Cyprus is considered by Britain to be a vital outpost of the Empire the uprising had to be stopped.



Major Hal Treherne is posted to Cyprus and dutifully his wife Clara follows with their twin 16-month old daughters. Hal has risen to the rank of major in a ten year career that has not seen front line action, however he has total commitment to his country and believes in the ‘rightness’ of their cause - that of protecting Cyprus from the Cypriots. Clara loves her husband, but finds life as a military wife to be lonely and unfulfilling. As the weeks pass Hal is forced to confront his high ideals and question some of the military activities in the face of atrocities that he is drawn into, or made aware of. Internal conflict between what he believes is right and proper and loyalty to the military causes Hal to change. Clara resents the time Hal spends with his job, not just going to the office, but away on patrol for days. Adding this to Hal’s increasing failure to communicate, he is unable to put into words what is happening, Clara starts to believe he cares more for his job than her, a situation that leads to misunderstanding and resentment and a marriage and career on the rocks. When a horrific incident done by the British is hushed up Hal finally loses all faith in the military and questions why it seems alright for the British to torture, but not the enemy. At the same time Clara starts to lose faith in Hal. Can life for the two ever be the same again?



SMALL WARS is an easy to read and fast-paced story that makes the reader face up to some very confronting situations while sharing the emotional confusion that Hal goes through. Author, Sadie Jones, has managed to recreate a period of history when people knew their place in society, wives ‘obeyed’ their husbands and lay back and thought of England, any vestige of an emotional display was frowned upon and a drink at the club was the acceptable form of comfort. Having lived as a child during this time in one such British colonial enclave I found myself really relating to a lot of the social life as it was portrayed.

  sally906 | Apr 3, 2013 |
“This sick fear was new to him; like shame, it had been unknown. Now he was well acquainted with both.” (348)

Major Hal Treherne is a young, dedicated soldier who has risen impressively through the ranks. Thirsting for action, he does not hesitate to accept a transfer from Europe to the Mediterranean in 1956. He, his wife Clara, and their two young children relocate from Germany to Cyprus. Their timing is certainly amendable to action: the island is in the midst of the Emergency. The British are defending their colony from the Cypriots who are battling for union with Greece.

Of course, there is nothing small about war, even a “small war.” Hal, like most soldiers, is changed by atrocity. And Clara grows fearful of the world she is living in. Doubt, fear, betrayal, and shame threaten to derail their marriage.

“She was hot and panicking and felt imaginary Cypriot eyes upon her. She had started to feel like that all the time now. When she was in her bedroom she imagined them watching her house, when she was opening her front door she imagined tripwires across it and had begun to check, without letting anyone see she was doing it. Whenever she got into the car, part of her was expecting it to blow up. Every sound she heard had both a benign and a sinister interpretation, and she would have to remind herself to keep to the real world and not be drawn into her fear completely, not let it overtake her.” (154)

Small Wars is eminently readable, so much so that I didn’t want to put it down. In addition to being a haunting depiction of the Cyprus Emergency and a marriage in crisis, it raises bold questions which resonate acutely about our contemporary world view and, even less flattering, about the moral superiority with which we righteously defend our ruthless assault on “terrorists.” Jones is quickly becoming a favourite author. Small Wars, like The Outcast before it, is highly recommended.

“History doesn’t end. Places that are fought over are always fought over, and will always be fought over, and there will never be an end to it, and each conflict is just adding to the heap of conflicts that no one can remember starting and no one will ever, ever finish.” (82) ( )
5 vote lit_chick | Jan 24, 2013 |
A story about wars indeed, but in no way small.

Hal is a British soldier promoted to Major posted in Cyprus to fight EOKA, a paramilitary association against the British rule of Cyprus. It's 1956 and Hal has never seen action, so he takes this post eagerly wanting to put in practise everything he's learnt in the base.

His wife Clara and their two baby daughters join him in Cyprus after two months and while she struggles to "fit in" and make a home out of this foreign place, Hal and his men start their duty searching for suspects and interrogating them trying to prevent more terrorist attacks.

As weeks go by, Hal starts to realise that what seemed to be an under control situation is in fact a constant strain between what's morally right and wrong and when he finally dares to speak about it to his superiors he is disappointed in the unfairness of the system and the detached coldness he finds in some of his men.

An escalating tension is starting to build up in him, a tension which will affect his relationship with Clara and his daughters, a small war within himself and another one with his family, and a foreboding feeling engulfs the reader as the story advances.

This is not a novel to take lightly and Sadie Jones makes an excellent job out of it. Like in her previous novel, The Outcast (which is one of my favourites ever), she manages to create real characters with human conflicts and faults and to portray convincing relationships between them without the need of excessive dialogue. In this book, the images described and the silences tell you all you need to know. No flourishing, no superfluous conversations, just raw feelings and impotence and guilt. And an important message, there are no winners in wars, and no good or bad men, only humans trying to cope with life the best they can and dealing with the consequences of their own actions. Sad, but true.

You'll find yourself swallowing compulsively while reading on and wondering how a story like this can have a happy ending.
But like life, this book is full of surprises, and not all of them sour.
If you're undecided, just pick it up and start reading, you will forget about the rest. ( )
  Luli81 | Dec 19, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
Sadie Jones's first novel, The Outcast, was a devastating portrait of family damage in a postwar climate of numbness and repression. An unusually confident debut, it combined elegant, understated prose with a raw emotional charge to become that rare thing: a critically applauded bestseller. It's a hard act to follow, and while her second novel again examines love, duty, shame and violence against the backdrop of the 50s, it widens out from the domestic war zone to military conflict in Cyprus. Small Wars is commendably ambitious, but also a thinner, more mannered work than its predecessor. It strips away the social codes and agreed lies of army, family and marriage, but finds little behind them.
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sadie Jonesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Alfsen, MereteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Almighty God, whose son Jesus Christ, the Lord of all life, came not to be served but to serve, help us to be masters of ourselves that we may be the servantsof others and teach us to Serve To Lead, through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord, Amen.
The Collect of RMA Sandhurst
- Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden, Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither Living nor dead, and I knew nothing, Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land
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For Tim Boyd
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An English rain was falling onto the instruments of the band, onto their olive green uniforms and the uniforms of the cadets as they marched.
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After career soldier Hal Treherne is transferred to the British colony of Cyprus, his wife, Clara, and two daughters follow, but Clara becomes fearful of her increasingly distant husband and the atrocities that take him further from her.

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