Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Report by Jessica Francis Kane

The Report is Jessica Francis Kane's first novel.  During WWII, Londoners regularly spent nights in London Underground Tube Stations that were transformed into bomb shelters.  In March 1943, 173 people died in one of those shelters.  No bombs fell that night.  It was one of the worst civilian disasters in London during the war.

The novel is based on this true story and tells us how an East London community suffered through and managed with loss.  In response to a public outcry, a respected magistrate is tasked with writing a report to determine the cause of these deaths.  In the process, he is forced to make difficult judgments.  In a parallel story, a young documentary film maker visits the magistrate to interview him for the 30th anniversary of what was a ground breaking report.

The Report questions hindsight and the revisiting of mistakes.  We have lived through and learned from many of these reports (e.g., The 9/11 Commission Report, The Space Shuttle Challenger Report). At times, they seek to assign blame and at other times they try to teach or simply explain. The book is part of a growing collection of post-9/11 literature that struggles with communal loss and asks questions such as "when engaged in a war, is morale more important than reason?" and "is truth always a noble end in and of itself?"  Kane expertly poses these questions.

Kane provides us with insight into an aspect of WWII that I had not read much about before: how did the war affect the daily lives of Londoners?  She examines the sacrifices they were forced to make.  Although this is a period piece, Kane frames the story in a way that makes the appeal far more universal.

Recommendation: This is a very good book and worth the read.  In this well paced piece, Kane combines excellent literary writing with important universal questions.

The memorial plaque from the station.

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