Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Report by Jessica Francis Kane

"But talking to him was like talking to any young person about the war years: they spoke from a background of black-and-white pictures, while your memories were very much in color. They asked about food rationing, while you saw the coupons. They spoke about the public morale, while what you remembered were the faces. Try as they might, they heard only a chord or two, while the whole symphony still roared in your head." page 139

The Report
by Jessica Francis Kane
Graywolf Press, 2010
235 pages

source: personal copy, from another book blogger

In a nutshell:
In March 1943, on a night no bombs were dropped, one hundred seventy-three people died in a crush at an air-raid shelter in London's Bethnal Green tube station. Thirty years later, the production of a television documentary causes both survivors and government officials to re-examine their actions. Both timelines are woven together in The Report.

My thoughts:
Reading fiction has expanded my knowledge of World War II again. Last year, I learned of the 1942 Vel d'Hiv roundup in Paris through Sarah's Key. Now, reading The Report, I've been made aware of the 1943 Bethnal Green tube station disaster.

After a horrific crush in a tube station air-raid shelter, local magistrate Laurence Dunne is assigned the task of conducting an inquiry and filing a report. There were no bombs dropped that night, and his interviews turn up surprising evidence pointing to truths that could prove damaging. Should they be included in the report? Is is better to give people all the answers, or just what he thinks they need? How would assigning blame, or not, change the course of lives?

Hundreds of Londoners are forever altered by the events of that one fateful night yet, despite the subject matter, the book is not depressing.
"Surviving some disasters, she sensed, you don't get to be happy again. You simply change, and then you decide if you can live with the change." (p.225)
Thirty years later, Dunne is approached by a young man producing a television documentary to commemorate the anniversary. Dunne eventually warms up to him and agrees to cooperate with the project. In doing so, he holds his actions up for re-examination. Old wounds are also reopened for survivors.

Kane flawlessly weaves the two time periods together into an unforgettable narrative.

My rating:

Bottom line:
A fascinating fictional look at a very real disaster and its aftermath, The Report would make an excellent book club selection. Very highly recommended.


  1. I've been wanting to read this. I remember reading about the crush and the deaths when I was in college and have always thought that to be so disturbing.

  2. I'm so pleased that you loved this one too. I agree - I don't think I'll be forgetting this one.

  3. I'd love to read this as well.

  4. My family came from Bethnal Green and were situated there in the war, so I do think I should read this one.

  5. You beat me to this one! I've had my eye on it for awhile, it sounds right up my street. Glad you enjoyed it, much as one can enjoy reading about a tragedy.

  6. This one sounds fascinating and certainly is about a subject I know absolutely nothing about. I must read it!

  7. I never knew about this. What a horribly, horribly ironic tragedy.

  8. I started this, but I had to turn it in to the library before I could finish it. I MUST get it again! Thanks for the review. And I hope you had a great vacation!

  9. This really sounds intriguing. I wasn't aware of this incident until I read "Atonement." Gonna have to add this one to the list!

  10. Beth F - It's really a great book. Can't believe I hadn't heard about this incident.

    Jackie - I will be thinking about it for a long time, too.

    Mystica - Hope you can get to it soon!

    Viv - I'll bet they have fascinating stories to tell. Were any of them involved?

    Darlene - For such a horrific tragedy, the book was handled in a way that gives both understanding and insight. Hope you can get to it soon.

    Staci - I'd never heard about it either...think you would like this book.

    E.L. Fay - Not many people in the US seem to know about this. My husband learned about it at the Transportation Museum when we were in London a couple months ago.

    Read the Book - Yes, you need to get back on the waiting list and finish this! We had a great time in Florida... our first vacation with the whole family in a couple of years. Loved every minute:-)

    Lisa - I read Atonement, but didn't make the connection. How can that be? Think it's time for a reread.

  11. I remember Jackie's review of this one. I love all things WWII, so it has my attention. Great concise review!!!!

  12. I'm so interested in the domestic side of wartime, this is right up my alley. I suggested it to my library and it just showed up on my library record as in-processing. I hope it doesn't take too long, it sounds so interesting.

  13. I'm fascinated by all things World War II and this definitely appeals.

    Glad to see you back from vacation. Hope it was a restful one.

  14. Sandy - It seems like I've been reading more about WWII lately, too. I think you'll enjoy The Report!

    Karen K. - The domestic side of wartime seems to be a quickly developing interest for me, too. I plan to suggest this to my book club, but there is only one copy in the entire 43 library system. Hope they will order a few more.

    Margot - We've been back for almost a week now. The vacation was perfect, but it's been hard to get back into my blogging and reading routine.

  15. This is the first i've heard of The Report. It sounds mezmerizing, disturbing and intriguing. The more fiction I read about WWII, the more I want to read. I feel like I am finally getting a good history education while doing something I love. The story-line of this book very much interests me. Thanks for a great review!

  16. Amy - I'm the same way with WWII fiction lately. Funny because a few years ago, I wasn't really interested. Think you'd like The Report!

  17. I'm glad you liked this one. It was definitely different from the other books I have read recently, so it was a nice change of pace and very educational.

  18. Reviewsbylola - Definitely a nice change of pace for me, too. I think I'll be reading more WWII books this year.


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