Summertime by Vanessa Lafaye
Who among us can forget the TV footage and news from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina? The horrifying stories of people abandoned, slow moving authorities, unwilling or unable to send relief to survivors.
Take these scenes to 1935, add more than 100 veterans from WWI who already felt abandoned by a government that had promised a grant that never eventuated. Their protests had been met with tear gas and bayonets, led by Major Patton. Instead they’d answered a call to build a bridge in a place that no-one wanted, surviving in inadequate accommodation, with inadequate food and in a challenging climate.
The locals, ‘Conchs’, found their presence a threat. Coloured men such as Henry Roberts who had been an officer in the U.S. Army, and had found equality during the war, returned to discover that nothing had changed in the U.S., or in his home town of Heron Keys. This realisation has kept him from returning home, or even informing his family that he is one of the now distrusted veterans. Even the suspicion of a crime could result in lynching by a mob, and Henry finds himself the victim of unfounded suspicion.
There are memorable characters who show compassion, but there are others for whom self interest is their driving force, and his relationship with Missy – the young girl he’d left behind when he signed up, and who has waited patiently for his return – is told with gentleness.
Lafaye has written this novel in order to publicise a shameful event in U.S. history, and as such it is a compelling book, with well drawn characterisation. The author’s notes and list of further reading add to the narrative.
Reviewed by Guest Blogger Barbara, a Co-op Member since 2012.