Set within a year of global turmoil, Carreira’s Sleeping Through War focuses on the experiences of three ordinary women in 1968. It is their ordinariness that gives this quiet novel a real power, and I found their three stories very moving.
Rose, a nurse in a care home, is adjusting to life in London, comparing its drabness to her more vibrant home of St. Lucia. In Washington D.C., Mrs Johnson is writing letters to her son, Ron, who has been posted to Vietnam. Her voice captures both the pride and increasing concern about America’s place in the world, and we’re reminded that foreign policies affect those at home too. Another mother, this time Amalia in Lisbon, is also facing heart-breaking choices as she seeks ways to bring up her young son alone. All three women face upheavals of sorts and Carreira is particularly good at conveying the unspoken worries of her characters. Their concerns are arguably very much women’s concerns in a world where men are engaging in acts of aggression and struggling for power.
The women’s stories are punctuated by recreations of actual news items, reminding us just how tense their world was in that particular year. Their stories make the global tensions personal and this is an affecting approach. As I’ve said before, a good writer creates characters who remain with you once the book is finished and, be it in the detail of a man’s shoes or the behaviour of an elderly woman being served soup, Carreira’s scenes leave an indelible mark. Rose is perhaps my favourite character, imbued as she is with a sense of optimism,
‘I was lucky to catch the flower stall before they packed up too. I bought two bunches for a bargain. They would have just thrown them away in the dustbin if I hadn’t got there first, but there’s still a couple of days in them, with a little bit of water and a little bit of care.’
Carreira has written several stage plays, and brings to her novel’s characters an attention to voice that makes them easy to hear and ‘see’. I liked her approach and I’ll certainly be looking out for more of her work.
My thanks to the author and Rachel @Rararesources for providing a copy for review.
It is May 1968. Students are rioting, civil rights are being fought and died for, nuclear bombs are being tested, and war is raging in Vietnam. For three ordinary women in Lisbon, London and Washington life must go on as usual. For them, just to survive is an act of courage. How much has really changed in 50 years?
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Jackie Carreira is a writer, musician, designer, co-founder of QuirkHouse Theatre Company, and award-winning playwright. She mostly grew up and went to school in Hackney, East London, but spent part of her early childhood with grandparents in Lisbon’s Old Quarter. Her colourful early life has greatly influenced this novel. Jackie now lives in leafy Suffolk with her actor husband, AJ Deane, two cats and too many books.
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