Title: The Heros’ Welcome
Author: Louisa Young
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5
The Hero’s Welcome opens in 1919 with the wedding of Riley and Nadine, childhood friends and sweethearts. In attendance is Riley’s best friend and captain during the war, Peter, and Peter’s son Tom.
Afterwards, Riley and Nadine go to tell their families, none of whom react well. Nadine and Riley are from different worlds, she is upper class, he working class. Before the war, their marriage would probably have been impossible. Then there is the fact that Riley was badly injured in the war. He lost his jaw, which has been reconstructed. With such a disfigurement, how will he possibly be able to find a job and support his wife?
Peter goes home to his wife Julia, hands over his son and goes into his study to start reading the Odyssey and drink whisky. Although he was not physically injured during the war, he is suffering. Memories and dreams of men he lost haunt him. Neither Julia or Tom, who is very young, understand and Julia, under the misguided idea that Peter would love her again if she was still young and beautiful has given herself a facial with caustic acid which has gone wrong, leaving her face permanently damaged.
All of this can be blamed on and placed at the feet of the war. This book, though, looks at what happened to people once the war was over. Men came back to a hero’s welcome but no jobs, no plans for reintegrating them back into society, no understanding of the psychological damage many had suffered, and no real desire to look at and acknowledge the physical injuries a lot of soldiers came back with. These were too much of a reminder of what had happened. People didn’t want to remember, they wanted to move on.
As, of course, do all the characters in this book. Moving on though, isn’t that easy and Peter and Julia especially don’t seem to know how. Their story was tragic to me. I felt for both of them, and Tom, a child who couldn’t impact anything but was just as much a victim of the war. Thankfully, Riley and Nadine’s story is more positive. They manage to remain in the world, unlike Peter and Julia, and – whilst it isn’t a world either of them expected or necessarily wanted to be living in – manage to rebuild their lives. There are misunderstandings and downs as well as ups along the way but they are determined to not be victims. I really admired this in them.
Although written in the third person, Louisa Young also uses the first person to show what each character is thinking. The mix works well and I came to care for each one of them. She makes them sympathetic but there isn’t any pity. I don’t normally read this type of fiction and was worried it would be overly sentimental but it wasn’t at all. I was also worried that I would be missing something as I hadn’t read this books predecessor but it does stand alone.
The book itself was well written. It flowed for me and I was drawn in from page one. This was because of the characters but also because of the time and place. I feel I understand more now about what soldiers faced when returning home, and this has struck a chord in the year we have been “celebrating” the 100 year anniversary of World War I. I came away wanting to know more. And read Louisa Young’s earlier books. Great read!