Tuesday, January 18, 2011

book review: Small Wars by Sadie Jones

Small Wars: A Novel (P.S.)The backstory: Small Wars was on the 2010 Orange Prize longlist.

The basics: Set in British-occupied Cyprus in the 1950's, Small Wars is the story of a young married couple, Hal and Clara. Hal is an officer in the British army. It's a politically tumultuous time, as Cypriots are increasingly resistant to the British.

My thoughts: Small Wars is a beautiful, subtle and powerful novel. It's not a novel that sets out to make its case from page one, and its power snuck up on me. Perhaps because of the cover, I expected this novel to be mostly Clara's story, but Jones shifts seamlessly back and forth between Clara and Hal's perspectives, often on the very same page. Initially, I identified with Clara more, but surprisingly, Hal ended up stealing this book for me.

With my modern perspective, even knowing very little about this time in history, it was clear to see loyalties shifting. While this novel was about Cyprus in the 1950's, many of the names could be changed and it would apply to occupation tales throughout history and continuing today. I read it with a modern United States perspective, and the parallels were profound.

Small Wars is at times a dark novel:
"Naked corpses with their hands cut off, vichyssoise for lunch, rumours of a new governor, the illegal torture of a teenage boy--if you reflected upon it, thought Hal, one topic was pretty much like any other."
Despite its darkness, however, Small Wars never lost hope for me. It's more illuminating than depressing. Its power is subtle, but it's a novel I find myself thinking of more and more, even though I finished it almost two weeks ago. I liked the first half, but I loved the second half.

Favorite passage: "At least a battle--at least they would have the name of a battle to have died in, not just a row of Greek letters most of them didn't understand, at least a country to fight against, or defend, not this small, dirty struggle."

The verdict: Small Wars is a moving novel about war, identity and loyalty. Its initial slow pace many turn some off, but the payoff is worth it.

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Length: 400 pages
Publication date: January 19, 2010 (it's in paperback now)
Source: review copy from the publisher, courtesy of TLC Book Tours. Check out the full list of tour stops.

Treat yourself! Buy Small Wars from Amazon or an independent bookstore.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you!


  1. This sounds fantastic. I love a dual narrative like this when it is done well. Getting the different takes on the same time period is just fascinating to me.

  2. I haven't heard a lot about this book, but from the way you describe it, and the quotes you chose, it sounds like its quite a powerful read and one I might like to check out. I am glad to hear that it was a great read for you, and I think that it is really cool that a female author was able to create such a scene stealing male character. Wonderful review on this book!

  3. I had seen this one around ever since it has been nominated for the Orange Prize last year. I have seen some mixed reviews, but I always secretly felt I would really enjoy it. I think this review proofs I might be right ;)

  4. So glad you enjoyed this one since I am participating in this tour and need to read this one still. Now I know that I need to stay with it to have it turn out well!

  5. This sounds like a gorgeous book. I love how you point out that it could really be set in any occupation in any age - that's a huge selling point for me.

    Thanks for being a part of this tour. I'm thrilled that you enjoyed the book, and I'm adding it to my own TBR list right now.

  6. I'm finishing up this book right now and am loving it so far. Glad to see you rated it so highly.

  7. I thought this was really well done, and I agree that the complications surrounding Hal's character make his role in the story particularly memorable. It was a slow start for me, too, but, ultimately, completely satisfying in unexpected ways.

  8. I just finished reading this one...and I agree - it is a subtle novel (something Jones does exceedingly well). Great review!


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