Thursday, July 31, 2014

Review: A Life Apart

Summary: Morris Sullivan joins the navy in 1940 with a love of ships and high hopes. Though he leaves behind his new wife, Agnes, and their baby daughter, he is thrilled to be pursuing his lifelong dream—but things change when he is shipped off to Pearl Harbor when the war begins. When he narrowly survives the 1941 attack thanks to the courage of a black sailor he doesn't know, Morris is determined to seek out the man's family and express his gratitude and respect. On leave, he tracks down the man's sister in his own hometown of Boston—and finds an immediate and undeniable connection with the nurturing yet fiercely independent Beatrice, who has left the stifling South of her upbringing for the more liberal, integrated north.

Though both try to deny their growing bond, their connection and understanding is everything missing from Morris's hasty marriage to his high school sweetheart and from Beatrice's plodding life as she grieves the brother she has lost. At once a family epic and a historical drama that brings the streets and neighborhoods of Boston vividly to life from World War II through the civil rights era to the present day, A Life Apart takes readers along for the emotional journey as Morris and Beatrice's relationship is tested by time, family loyalties, unending guilt, racial tensions, death, and the profound effects of war. -- Broadway

A LIFE APART by L.Y. Marlow initially appealed to me because it was a historical novel that took place during World War II. However, once I started reading this book, I realized that it was much more than another love story that took place during the war. Rather, it was a story that dealt with loss, race, and family.

A LIFE APART begins with Morris Sullivan, the father of a baby girl and a husband to Agnes, decides to join the navy. Soon he is sent to Pearl Harbor and fortunately survives the 1941 attack thanks to a black soldier. Morris wants to thank the family and let them know that the soldier died a hero so he wrote them a letter. The soldier's sister Beatrice and Morris begin a relationship through letters, and when they eventually meet, there is a very strong connection.

Fifteen years later, Morris and Beatrice are both living in Boston, and they find it's hard to stay away from each other. Morris realizes that, despite caring about his wife and deeply loving his daughter, he married the wrong woman. The two fall in love and begin an affair; however, both have second (and third) thoughts about what they are doing. As the years pass, Morris and Beatrice find themselves brought together in a different type of relationship -- another one that is forged from tragedy.

As I reread my brief description of the book, I realize that this story primarily sounds like a romance or at the very least a love story. And while the basis of the book is definitely the relationship between Morris and Beatrice and his marriage to Agnes, A LIFE APART was actually so much more than this. It explored some very serious issues, and for the most part, I thought it was a well written novel.

One thing I really appreciated about this story was how well the author brought the various time periods to life. The book began prior to World War II and spanned to the present day. I liked the scenes at Pearl Harbor, but I especially appreciated how our country was portrayed in the 1950s and 1960s. It was interesting to see how both the Mississippi and Boston changed through the years.

Another aspect of this story that really impressed me was how well the author handled the issues of race. She began by showing how black and whites served their country side-by-side in the 1940s and then then had a black man save a white man's life. Furthermore, she showed some of the pressures that Beatrice and Morris faced as a couple. As racial tensions grew more and more tense in our country, she did a great job of chronicling how both the north and the south handled these issues.

If I do have one complaint with A LIFE APART, it was with the length of the novel. I just felt it was a bit too long. Part of the reason I might have felt this way was Morris's character. I actually didn't find him to be as well developed as the other characters in this novel. He went back and forth between Beatrice and Agnes and was so darn wishy-washy about making a decision. While I did respect him for trying to stay with his wife and be a good father and husband, I was also furious with him! He was selfish (although weak might be a better term) and Beatrice (and Agnes for that matter) definitely suffered because of it.

A LIFE APART would make a wonderful book club selection. There truly is so much to discuss beginning with the fifteen questions in this reader's guide. Some of the themes you might want to explore include duty, family, parent/child relationships, obligation, war, sacrifice, love, race, guilt, redemption, forgiveness, friendship, faith, and interracial relationships.

A LIFE APART is a compelling family drama that does a good job of exploring race issues. Recommended to fans of women's fiction.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

I've become very impatient with books that feel too long to me. Having said that, this sounds like just the kind of book my book club loves.

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

I am just going through an audio that is too long... I wish that did not happen as often as it did.

Kim@Time2Read said...

I read this one earlier this year and really did enjoy it. I don't remember it feeling to long, though. But you and I pretty much agree on Morris! You can take a look at my review if you feel like it.