Reviewed by Adeze Ojukwu
New Zealand authors, Richard and Elise Brooke, have written and published a new book, entitled Johnathan.
The fascinating and heart-stirring story, portrays the effects of the Second World War on an boy, the protagonist, his family and indeed his community in England.
As stated clearly, in the introduction, the book is not a war story. “This is the story of a boy, living in England during the period of the second world war. It is not a war story, but the war has a strong influence on the life of the boy. As we progress through the story, we share in his life, and as we do so we share his worries, his hopes, his fears, and his frustrations.”
“We share the effects that the war has on his life and the community in which he lives. We share, also, his search and longing for that which many take for granted, but which is denied Johnathan; the search for security and love.”
The chronicle, which begins, in medias res, is delivered in the first person narrative format, with Johnathan Miller’s punchy and frank opening lines.
“My name is Johnathan- Johnathan Miller. My friends call me Johnathan. It’s not John or Johnny or anything like that. Nope! I was christened Johnathan and I reckon that if my parents wanted me to be called by any other name they would have given me another name, eh? So Johnathan it is.”
“I’ll start my story with the beginning of the war, World War two that is, cause that’s when things really started to happen, I reckon. Er, check me if I begin to waffle on a bit won’t you? I like talking and I tend to digress a bit at times.”
Eventually his joyful and peaceful world crashed, and gave way to dread and dismay, especially when the father joined the Navy.
“I was still puzzled and worried. There seemed to be so many questions, so many things I didn’t quite understand – I guess what I really needed was reassurance. Mr Truckle was a trolly bus driver, and it worried me that he would have to go away too.
So all the family were together on the day of his departure. We boys spent the morning quietly playing with our toys in the living room. Everyone was rather subdued as we awaited the time for his departure. Even I wasn’t my normal raucous self!
Chapter two explicitly reveals the author’s aversion for wars and bloody conflicts.
“That was how it came up on us, World War Two. It changed the whole direction of our lives, as it did most people alive in those days, I guess.”
The entire plot is, intricately woven around this dominant and recurring anxiety and trepidation.
“I began to relate the whole story. How everything seemed to go wrong. First my Dad having to go away, then the bomb and losing our home and things, the Philip going away to boarding school, Mum going to hospital, and hurting my head. Then I told of my growing friendship with Anne. Mrs Armstrong said she knew something about that – after all she was our teacher, and she lived next door to Dr Wilkins.”
“I explained how I lost my best friend, Vernon and then even Anne was taken away!
To my surprise, Mrs Armstrong put her arm around me and gently pulled me onto her knee.
“Johnathan,” she said.
“Life can be tough at times. Sometimes it just seems that the whole world is crumbling around us, right?”
“I nodded in agreement.
She smiled at me, and went on to say,
“When things go wrong, we just have to be brave, and try to pick up the pieces, and carry on! It isn’t always easy, I know, but we have to try – that’s what life is. It isn’t all fun and games, you know!” I nodded again, and promised that I would try.”
No doubt the young man, did his best to overcome the harsh circumstances of his early years, as shown in the closing chapters.
The style of the book, encapsulated in 13 chapters, is captivating, reflecting the dexterity and mastery of prose by the accomplished novelist.
The diction is realistic, while the imagery is quite vivid and descriptive, to help the reader to grasp the complex experiences and emotions of the characters.
Generally the plot and language of the profound narrative are simple and conversational, making it easy to comprehend.
With the theme, centred on a post-war setting in England, the mood oscillates, from fear, apprehension to hope and joy, reflecting the pain and sorrow, occasioned by war.
The memoir parades, a roller coaster of emotions, mostly due to the dominant search of the protagonist for security and love.
The denouement is really exciting, as the young man achieved his ‘big dream’ to acquire educational success, as portrayed in the concluding paragraphs.
“A few days later an official looking envelope came through the mail. When I opened it, I found that it was my School Certificate examination results! On dear! Have I passed?!
I looked at the paper, and my heart gave a leap that seemed as if it was trying to escape from the depths of my loins.”
“Well! Don’t keep us in suspense! What’s the verdict?” Aunty Mabel asked a little impatiently.”
The discussion with his uncle is equally exhilarating.
“Uncle Alexander made a lot of sense. Why commit myself to more restrictions. I wanted freedom now. Freedom to fly, like a bird. Yes, that was it! Fly like a bird! I was like a young bird. I had been too long within the confines of the nest.”
“I was ready now to stretch my wings – and fly. I didn’t know where I was to fly to, or what I would meet on the way, but I was ready to fly – to be free at last.”
Clearly, this story offers hope and comfort to every one, who is inundated by the difficulties of life and society, particularly in this COVID-19 pandemic and its adversities.
The author’s background gives a great insight into her literary works. Growing up, she experienced personal struggles and challenges, but she prevailed over the adversities.
By sheer dint of hardwork and determination, she has become a beacon of hope and inspiration to many people, especially her readers and followers.
Clearly, Elise is an internationally recognized writer, who uses fiction and poetry genres to express her artistry and inner recesses about society.
During an interview, she revealed the major reasons for writing this audacious and compelling novel.
“My name is Sheila, I grew up in Hawkes Bay NZ. My parents moved to NZ from England and South Africa, to create their New Zealand Dream. This New Zealand Dream quickly turned into my New Zealand nightmare.”
“I escaped a world of abuse, mental health issues, self-hate, a religious occult, gangs, domestic violence, divorce, learning difficulties, and death. I came from surviving to now thriving.”
“I wrote this book to give hope and inspiration to others. My passion is creative writing. I’ve been writing for 24 years in fiction and poetry. I have written and published two autobiographies in my book series “The New Zealand Dream,” by Sheila, my pen name.”
“In between projects, I do freelance writing, content, and article and coaching.”
Sheila’s vast writing expertise is elegantly displayed in the new novel Jonathan.
Indeed this book is a must read for all lovers of good literature.
I therefore highly endorse and recommend Johnathan to all enthusiastic readers of fiction across the globe.
It will be great to pick up a copy of this new novel and enjoy the incredible story of transformation from despair to a dream come true.
.Ojukwu, a journalist and Fellow of Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship, reviewed this book, as part of her passion for use of arts and literary genres to strengthen socio-economic transformation and development across society. Kindly send feedback to [email protected]