Friday, July 1, 2016

Losing Julia


I'm one of those people who will approach a person in public if they are reading or prominently holding a book and I always will be. And this book is one of the reasons why I will always do that:

Losing Julia
by Jonathan Hull

I was at a restaurant and saw a woman about my age reading. When I asked her about her book she enthusiastically recommended it. In fact she could barely contain herself...and now I know why.

This book would probably be considered historical fiction for the wonderful attention to detail and historical continuity. WWI, and if you recall I read another book about WWI just a few weeks ago All the Light We Cannot See.  If you are anything like me, you will spend some time researching locations and historically accurate events from WWI. Thank you to Pinterest for so many revealing images of the war in Verdun, France and the Battle of the Somme. What a horrific place and time. And what, I ask you, WHAT makes one country decide to decimate the young men of their own AND of another country? WHAT is it all about?

So to tell about the book. Our main character Patrick opens up the book at the unveiling of a WWI memorial in Verdun France, the unveiling happening about ten years after the end of the war. At the ceremony he sees a woman who was the wife of his fallen friend, Daniel. Julia. 

The threads of story follow Patrick through the trenches of WWI, through the days following the unveiling of the war memorial, and well into his life at a retirement home in his older years. The times and storyline flow through the book in a most delightful way.

Books are quite sublime. I don't crease the corners. I don't write in them. I don't fold them back so far that the binding cracks. For this book I was grateful to be reading it on my ereader because I highlighted about a hundred different things. From sublime turns of phrase to riotously funny passages to things that I wanted to read up on to words that moved me.

When I review the words that I've highlighted on my ereader I discover that I have been the most moved by words that attempt to explain the inexorable changes of becoming old, losing yourself, losing connections, ultimately losing everything. But it's not a sad book, not really. In some ways Patrick is truly a heroic human; he is a man who examines his life with beautiful nostalgia, who is aware of that feeble quest for meaning in the intensity of passionate love, and who acknowledges the very human experience of knowing that our time is limited and still not living that one life to its fullest or not making the choices that one longs to make. He is a man who survived the horrific trenches in France during WWI and who discovers, ultimately, that those years in France never really leave him.

I actually feel that the more I attempt to describe the book the more I diminish it. Instead allow me to describe my own experience of the reading.

Perhaps being in my fifties has made me more aware of the passing of time, of the places in life where one makes decisions that direct our course, of the echoes and shadows of past the live with one each day, and of how that passing of time begins to feel a bit cruel at times. I'm fairly certain this book would have been different for me had I read it twenty, or even ten, years ago. I can't recall ever feeling so connected to an elderly character as I did to the elderly Patrick. His remembering and observing and attempts to figure out meaning would hit me in the heart at the same a time that they made me laugh.

Surely dark, sad, war torn, but ultimately hopeful and richly beautiful. Jonathan Hull has written a truly moving story of one man's search for meaning, and because of his ability to write beautiful words I have already downloaded another book by him called The Devoted. Also, if I ever see the woman at Panera Bread Co. reading her book again, I'll be sure to get another recommendation. 

I give this book 9 out of 10 stars because something has to be better...
It's about as good as a book can get.

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