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The Hawkman: A Fairy Tale of the Great War…

The Hawkman: A Fairy Tale of the Great War

by Jane Rosenberg LaForge

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228680,595 (3.5)1



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I received this from #netgalley in exchange for my review. Interesting story of a WWI veteran and a young woman who both have traumatic pasts and their developing relationship. Inspired by the Grimm’s story, The Bearskin, there are elements of magical realism in the story. The writing was good, but the fairy tales and long flashbacks often detracted from the more compelling main story. ( )
  redwritinghood38 | Nov 6, 2018 |
"Bridgetonne was not without other misfits: old maids who, in an earlier time, might have been mistaken for witches, and bachelors who, likewise, would have been called out as warlocks. But by no means was the village haunted."

It seems that books set during the Great War or a few years later have become really fashionable recently. Not that I am complaining because this is a very interesting era but there are many examples of such novels that are more melodramatic than meaningful. Magical Realism is also a trending genre and one of my literary obsessions so "The Hawkman" ticked quite a few right boxes. And although it wasn't perfect, it was really, really good. And look at this beautiful cover....

The plot is inspired by a reading of the Grimm Brothers’fairy tale "The Bearskin" and by recorded experiences of POWs in German prison camps during the First World War. The action is set in a sleepy county and we follow Eva and Michael, two characters with many demons to defeat. It sounds simple enough but trust me (if you want, that is...) when I tell you that there is much to be discovered and much to think about in the course of the novel.

Jane Rosenberg LaFarge certainly has a way with words because the prose is beautiful, mystical and yet accessible. She chooses to start the story with a powerful, peculiar scene of a death on a wedding night, reminiscent of Victorian fables. What seems initially a mystery novel with elegant touches of Magical Realism (more felt than seen, though), quickly becomes a story about courage and acceptance, about society and the stupidity that rules over it. The writer decides to compose a story out of a number of themes and she succeeds, in my opinion. An interesting point is the conflict between the English and the Irish which causes major implications in Michael's life. His own compatriots prove to be worse than the German soldiers in a society that is eager to ostracize the ones who "fail" to meet its criteria of "acceptable" behaviour. So Michael is easily brandished as a "turncoat" and Eva becomes the "naive woman from the other side of the Atlantic".

Through the snippets of Eva and Michael's lives with their families, we come to understand them as characters and care for them. Eva loves stories as a means to escape and Michael sacrifices his voice and identity to protect his life. But what kind of life can he lead under these circumstances? And then there is Christopher and his father, Lord Thornton, a horrible creature blinded by the stereotypes of the English upper class during the early 20th century. If you allow me a personal note here, I must confess I fully identified with Eva. She shows to everyone that there are limits to one's kindness, understanding, patience and respect. "Respect". Such a violated word...She accepts different people, different opinions but to everything there is a limit. When the others offend her principles, when they refuse to respect her as an equal, she stops "respecting" and returns the favour. She is straightforward and avoids conflict but when she sees that they try to play her for a fool, she strikes. So, I saw myself in her. In my experience, when patient people witness the other's hypocrisy and double-faced words, they become ruthless and send the parasites out of their lives.

My one complaint is the length of the novel. I found it too short, I felt that the relationship between the characters wasn't fully developed and the implications of certain actions weren't explored to the end. The protagonists were excellent and I wanted to see more of them. Still, I'm not one to complain about "distant" narrations (...let us be serious....) so my final conclusion is that I enjoyed it, right until its beautiful, bittersweet end. I just wanted it to be more powerful and memorable hence the 4 stars.

Many thanks to Amberjack Publishing and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange of an honest review.

My reviews can also be found on https://theopinionatedreaderblog.wordpress.com ( )
  AmaliaGavea | Jul 15, 2018 |
This historical fiction novel set in England after World War I conveys its story through metaphor and magical realism. It follows the framework of the Grimm Brother’s story “The Bearskin,” online here. "The Bearskin" is about a young man who “enlisted as a soldier, conducted himself bravely, and was always at the very front when it was raining bullets. As long as the war lasted all went well, but when peace was made he was dismissed. . . . ” It was then the ex-soldier became an outcast, and wandered the world becoming more and more indistinguishable from an animal, until his good-heartedness and a dose of magic restored him.

LaForge enlarges and retells the story of “Bearskin” by loosely integrating experiences recounted in an actual WWI memoir by Lance Cpl. F. W. Harvey of the 2/5th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment. The result follows the life of fictional Michael Sheehan, before, during, and after the Great War.

During the war, Sheehan, like Harvey, survived the nightmarish trenches only to be put in one horrific prisoner camp after another. His soul-crushing experiences left Sheehan mostly deaf and mute, in addition to the psychological damage. He now lived as a feared and reviled vagabond in the town of Bridgetonne in England. He has done nothing to generate the hostile reaction to him except for the fact of his homelessness and his (very) unkempt appearance. The townspeople call him The Hawkman.

The Fifth Earl of Bridgetonneshire, Arthur Thorton, maintained a boarding school in Bridgetonne and was the de facto head of the town. He felt nothing stood between himself and his goal of returning to “normality” after the war but the offensive presence of The Hawkman. As Thorton saw it, The Hawkman represented all of the - to his mind - moocher refugees of the war, who took advantage of the privileged, with their “voluntary poverty,” their communicable diseases, and their “clamorous appetites.” As the author writes: “Tacitly supporting any beneficent enterprise to feed, clothe, and comfort a virtual Bedouin of the British countryside did not align with either Lord Thorton’s inclinations or prejudices.”

But one of the teachers at Thorton’s school has other ideas. Eva Williams, 25, came to the school with some renown as an author of small fairy stories and little poems. In fact, upon learning about The Hawkman, she told the Thortons the story of "The Bearskin," but Lord Thorton and his son Christopher resisted the analogy: “He is a scavenger. Until one day, he will have scavenged all that he can. Then, he will turn predatory.”

Soon thereafter, Eva encountered The Hawkman herself, and invited him back to her cottage for a meal and a bath. She saw that he was obviously shell-shocked in the war. “Whatever it had been, it left him less than human. … he could not withstand the slightest disturbance.”

Through flashbacks we learn about Sheehan’s war experience. He had been in three different prisoner-of-war camps, with devastating effects: “The Germans had changed him from a soldier to a prisoner, from a man to a creature, and now they had executed a branding ["prisoner of war"], in case he ever had the means to change back into a man again.” That is, the Irish rejected him for joining the Brits (possible traitor). The Brits rejected him for being Irish (possible traitor). Both considered him suspect (possible traitor) after having been imprisoned by the Germans. And further, he was now too disabled to return to the work he did previously.

Before WWI he had been a pianist and also taught piano. But because his hands were mangled by the war and his hearing damaged, these options were no longer open to him. Sheehan was now basically like a dead man walking. But Miss Williams doesn’t give up on him, asserting to the protesting Thorton that “each of us has only our humanity to recommend us….”

Eva is not without her own appalling backstory. The circumstances of her childhood helped create the empathy that she now extended to Sheehan.

She continued to take care of him, and when his fear subsided, he began to help with tasks. Then Eva fell ill, and Sheehan brought her to the college infirmary, staying by her side constantly.

In this way, Christopher, visiting Eva often, got to know Sheehan, musing:

“He was a man of discards sewn together, and Christopher wondered how it was that the village, his father, and even himself had managed to stretch such a small, improbable reliquary of self-doubt into a vast, frightening figure of half-man and half-monster.”

Christopher had wanted to be a hero but failed both in the war and in peacetime. He saw that The Hawkman was a hero, the kind of man he wished he were. He began to help him. He also had an epiphany about his father: “The man could not contain himself, whether it was his malice or his ebullience, when exercising his cruelty.”

What happens next was in part foreshadowed by the preface, but still offers surprises.

Discussion: This book is difficult to read in part because the magical realism makes what occurs a bit opaque to readers. On the other hand, that aspect can help the reader get through the very awful scenes of torture and mistreatment.

Evaluation: This is an interesting, thought-provoking story, with lots of elements that would make it ideal for discussion in a book club. ( )
  nbmars | Jun 15, 2018 |
This book is all about the writing, the writing, the writing –

“This is a story about a man who thought he was a bird and the woman who helped him find his humanity again.” Set in a small English town which housed a large estate which in turn “hosted a woman’s college which produced…young ladies of use.” The story is slow paced and there are few twists and turns. In many places the narrative is told through a stream of consciousness with punctuation.

Read this book for the story if you choose – But you must read this book for the superb writing. ( )
  kimkimkim | May 24, 2018 |
The residents of post-WWI Bridgetonne, England, are unnerved by The Hawkman, the town’s most enigmatic indigent. This shabby, filthy recluse is harrassed by the local children and berated by the adults. He doesn’t speak, he bothers no one, and yet, the residents, especially Lord Thornton, want him out.

Miss Eva Williams, an American outsider, has taken a position at the local college under the employ of Lord Thornton. She is challenged by Thornton’s notion that the Hawkman should be gotten rid of in order to ensure the safety of the women of the college; however, her efforts are not what Lord Thornton intended. She shows compassion instead of contempt, and that causes quite an uproar in Bridgetonne.

This book is dreamy and mythical, bordering on magical realism. The backstories of both The Hawkman and Miss Williams are revealed gradually, interwoven with folklore and dark fairy tales to reinforce the motives of the characters.

I enjoyed this book because of its originality and departure from straightforward historical fiction. The atmosphere was believable and yet mysterious. At times the fairy tales arrived unexpectedly, leading to an abrupt change of narrative, and I didn’t understand the purpose or moral of most of them. Regardless, the writing was illusory and fantastical without sacrificing the sober reality of the effects of war.

Many thanks to Netgalley and Amberjack Publishing for an advance copy in exchange for my review.
( )
  ErickaS | May 2, 2018 |
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