Summary and book reviews of Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

Everyone Brave is Forgiven

by Chris Cleave

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
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  • First Published:
    May 2016, 432 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2017, 432 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

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About this Book

Book Summary

From the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Little Bee, a spellbinding novel about three unforgettable individuals thrown together by war, love, and their search for belonging in the ever-changing landscape of WWII London.

It's 1939 and Mary, a young socialite, is determined to shock her blueblood political family by volunteering for the war effort. She is assigned as a teacher to children who were evacuated from London and have been rejected by the countryside because they are infirm, mentally disabled, or - like Mary's favorite student, Zachary - have colored skin.

Tom, an education administrator, is distraught when his best friend, Alastair, enlists. Alastair, an art restorer, has always seemed far removed from the violent life to which he has now condemned himself. But Tom finds distraction in Mary, first as her employer and then as their relationship quickly develops in the emotionally charged times. When Mary meets Alastair, the three are drawn into a tragic love triangle and - while war escalates and bombs begin falling around them - further into a new world unlike any they've ever known.

A sweeping epic with the kind of unforgettable characters, cultural insights, and indelible scenes that made Little Bee so incredible, Chris Cleave's latest novel explores the disenfranchised, the bereaved, the elite, the embattled. Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is a heartbreakingly beautiful story of love, loss, and incredible courage.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven
September, 1939

MARY ALMOST WEPT WHEN she learned that her first duty as a schoolmistress would be to evacuate her class to the countryside. And when she discovered that London had evacuated its zoo animals days before its children, she was furious. If one must be exiled, then at least the capital ought to value its children more highly than macaws and musk oxen.

She checked her lipstick in a pocket mirror, then raised her hand.

"Yes, Miss North?"

"Isn't it a shame to evacuate the animals first?"

She said it in full hearing of all the children, who were lined up at their muster point outside the empty London Zoo, waiting to be evacuated. They gave a timid cheer. The headmistress eyed Mary coolly, which made her doubt herself. But surely it was wrong to throw the beasts the first lifeline? Wasn't that the weary old man's choice Noah had made: filling the ark with dumb livestock instead of lively children who might answer back? This was how ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Both Mary and Alistair sign up to be part of the war effort almost immediately after war is declared. What are their motivations for doing so? How does each of them serve? Why is Mary surprised by her assignment?
  2. When Mary first begins spending time with Tom, she describes him as "Thoughtful. Interesting. Compassionate." (p. 41) What did you think of him? Discuss Mary's relationship with Tom. Are the two well suited for each other? Why, or why not?
  3. In a letter, Mary writes, "I was brought up to believe that everyone brave is forgiven, but in wartime courage is cheap and clemency out of season." (p. 245) Why do you think Chris Cleave chose to take the title of his novel from this line? Does your interpretation of the title change ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Cleave pulls no punches in describing the devastation of war, depicting violent acts, horrific circumstances, and the equally catastrophic effects they have on people’s lives both on the battlefield and at home. Despite (or perhaps because of) the grand and gruesome backdrop against which the interpersonal dramas of Mary and Alistair play out, their love story is, in fact, less captivating than each one’s individual story of loss, redemption, and rehabilitation. Inspired in part by Cleave’s own grandparents, Everyone Brave Is Forgiven becomes a far more universal story, one that sheds new light on a well-known part of history, but that illustrates human phenomena – fear, paralysis, mistrust, hope – that are hardly unique to a specific time and place.   (Reviewed by Norah Piehl).

Full Review (546 words).

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Media Reviews

Booklist

Intensely felt…Full of insight and memorably original phrasings, the story is leavened by sardonic humor… Cleave paints an emotion-filled portrait of a damaged city with its inequities amplified by war and of courageous individuals whose connections to one another make them stronger.

Kirkus Reviews

Among all the recent fictions about the war, Cleave's miniseries of a novel is a surprising standout, with irresistibly engaging characters who sharply illuminate issues of class, race, and wartime morality.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Insightful, stark, and heartbreaking, Cleave's latest novel portrays the irrepressible hopefulness that can arise in the face of catastrophe.

Reader Reviews

Chris Schaefer

Heartbreaking
I had to plan on when to read this book, as I wanted to be uninterrupted and if I became tearful, it was ok. Such a grand book. So much to visualize on how people survived this war. Outstanding but painful. Educational and honest. A book I won't...   Read More

mary anne rees

A war story to read and reread
This novel takes place on 2 fronts of world was 2---London and Malta. The description of the destruction done by the Blitz to places and to the people is heartbreaking. The sacrifices of the soldiers on Malta made me cry. The characters are ...   Read More

heather overholt

Superficial!
Since this was our Book Club selection, I plodded through two hundred fifty pages but could bear no more.Thereafter, I simply skimmed a bit here and there to get the gist.The characters lacked depth and the dialogue seemed unrealistic, a parody of ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Malta During World War II

Map of MaltaThe island country of Malta, one of the key settings in Chris Cleave's Everyone Brave is Forgiven, might be tiny, but its location between Italy and North Africa, halfway between the Strait of Gibraltar and Egypt, has made it a strategically important naval base for hundreds, if not thousands, of years - including during World War II.

Malta voluntarily became part of the British Empire in 1800 and was a key part of Britain's Mediterranean presence right through World War II. Its vulnerable proximity to Italy and North Africa during World War II, however, put the island in considerable jeopardy, and from the early days of the war in 1940 through the middle of 1942, it (and the British naval troops stationed there) were under near-...

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