Rated of 5
The (Re)Birth of a Nation - Sort of
This is a book that explores a world of different things skillfully and enjoyably. It's also a welcome change from the plethora of books that seem to written so copies can be sold to book club members. It actually has some substance.
The setting is English society in transition following WWI. It is altogether possible that England's experiences at the crossroads of the 19th and 20th centuries reflect more intensely and completely changes that western societies underwent. They were in WWI longer than the US. They fought away from home while the French defended their homeland. Following the war, a greater number of the citizenry were inspired to seek change because of what they saw abroad or new opportunities they accrued while so many young men were away from home. Many of the characters are influenced by the liberalism created as a result of the tremendous changes. All this completes the backdrop for the story and the characters.
The characters who inhabit the setting experience many of the same metamorphoses. The story follows generations of a family, their servants, and their friends. It is centered around the family home and land, which has enough history to be another character in the novel. Most of the cast weighs duty against opportunity or responsibility against desire. Some make the selfless choice, some are more self-indulgent. There is remarkable irony in their interactions and almost nothing is "sugarcoated in happy ending", nonetheless the end is very satisfying.
The lord and lady have two sons, who have families. One loses a family, one has two daughters with whom he soldiers on after losing a son in the war. A butler and housekeeper 'parent' the other servants. Among them are a maid and manservant with similar backgrounds who move through the same seas of change as the family. And so on, and so on...
This is an enjoyable book that will be especially pleasing to those who love history, a bit of mystery, the English, and the classic English novel, among others.