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Five young friends from then-English Newfoundland and Ireland together join a regiment to serve in the war, as does a young nurse from Dublin. At first, a reader might be lulled into thinking this is a light-hearted Irish dialect-filled romp a la Finian’s Rainbow, but the novel takes us deep into the lives of its characters as they serve in the bloody trenches, convalesce, and try to live normal lives despite the physical and emotional damages they suffered.
Diedre, the tough but emotionally scarred nurse, Jack, who left “bits” of him on the battlefield, Will, with his invisible yet no-less devastating wounds—these are a few of the complex yet wholly identifiable characters who become alive through this novel’s pages. These are no simplistic people. Their humanness, their frailties confronted by the awfulness of the war, gives the book its special heart.
As much as we live through the late 1910s and early 1920s, there are few strictly historical passages. The characters live in those times, not declare them. There are no “war is over” scenes, only the heartbreaking aftermath of the war’s end on the characters. Yet, the book ends with the central characters’ futures well in hand, moving through the post-war era with the 1920s, Prohibition, and the foreshadowing of “the Troubles” beginning to play a part in all their lives.
Above all, the book is about enduring friendships and the nature of being human. The author compels us with his characters and how they rally together in times of crises and stand up for one another when the going gets tough. There is no sugar-coating what happens to them, and yet their long-standing bonds are what pulls them through for readers to form a special connection with one and all of them. The reader may be better for having met them all. Certainly, None of Us the Same will stay with the reader long after the book is put down.
None of Us the Same is the first of three novels in the series entitled “Sweet Wine of Youth,” and won First Place in the CIBA 2018 GOETHE Awards for Historical Fiction.