by Julie Berry
Have you ever experienced this reader phenomenon, where you have a book on your mind for a while, and finally decide, ‘you know what? That’s my next read‘. That’s exactly how I finally picked up Lovely War, a novel I’ve had on my bookshelves for years, possibly since it was published in 2019.
I think what helped corral me to this book, as a general mood reader, was the fact that I have been consuming a lot of mythology retellings this year in many different forms of media. All I could remember about Lovely War was that it took place during WWII, and featured Aphrodite. This book ended up being both exactly what it is described to be, and somehow not entirely what I was expecting.
Every year I try to push myself to read at least one novel set during WWII. I think it’s important to read about these topics for many reasons, and while I wish I had the mental fortitude to learn more about the history of the human race, atrocities like these leave me in a headspace I try not to dwell on. In short, they make me too depressed. Some years are just so heavy personally, that taking on a WWII novel isn’t possible, and while this year has been far from light, I knew I could accomplish my goal and finish this book.
What I hadn’t completely understood when purchasing this novel is that, while it is technically set in WWII, the majority of the action and plot actually takes place during WWI, a war I know very little about. It was fascinating to get a view of this war from the perspective of a young, fresh soldier, a young female piano player, and an African American musician turned soldier who hailed from New York.
I expected much more of a fantastical element to this novel considering Aphrodite, Ares, Apollo, and Hades make numerous appearances, but I respect the historically accurate trajectory the novel took instead. The Gods and Goddesses become our narrators, while the mortals truly are the star of the show, and boy did I dread any time Hades’ name appeared at the start of a new chapter.
I’m a known and well documented crier, and I somehow managed to hold it together while finishing this novel, instead turning to cursing rather violently at the pages this time around. There were countless heart wrenching moments befitting of a novel set during WWI, and scenes that felt like literal gut punches as a reader. I simply cannot fathom a life of war, and while reading this book I found myself reflecting a lot on current events overseas.
While I’m happy I read this story, and do think it will stick with me for a while, it doesn’t fall under the category of earth shattering favorite. I think in a lot of ways it’s too real, and raw, for me personally to categorize it as a favorite. Maybe that’s a personal shortcoming, but as a reader the books that become my favorites are the ones that helped me escape reality the most, and this novel kept reality right at the forefront of my mind. Despite this book not being a personal favorite, the writing style, unique plot structure, dual timelines, and overall intensity of this story were incredibly well done and woven together beautifully. I’d recommend this novel to people who want a new perspective on WWI, and what it feels like to be a God, Goddess, or mortal during a very real war in our immediate history.