*****If you have not read this, you really must. It is the best of the best that I have read.*****
John Boyne author extraordinaire.
“I suppose books are my real passion in life” (John Boyne)
This was absolutely positively wonderful in all ways a piece of literature can be.
I have thought and thought about this book long after I closed its back cover. It is probably one of the most powerful novels that I have read in quite some time.
Cyril Avery, the boy grown to manhood in this novel is a wonderful character. He epitomizes what it was like growing up a bastard in Ireland where his young unmarried mother is defamed by the parish priest, thrown out of her parents household, and cast adrift being pregnant, unloved, and unwanted. The only thing she can do is give her infant son up for adoption. So Cyril winds up the adoptive son of the Avery’s, a couple of non feeling, non conforming adults who while not abusing Cyril physically deny him any sort of emotional support always reminding him he is not an Avery. Yes, Cyril survives. He possess a wit and a look at life that while not carefree is certainly one in which he just seems to roll along. As a child he meets his best friend for life, Julian Woodbead, and their path cross and converge as they grow to adulthood.
Cyril, not Cecil, knows he is different. Not understanding the how or the why he finds himself constantly drawn to Julian, who by this time is a major Lothario, never passing up a romp with anyone in a skirt and basically is unaware of the love that seems to be within Cyril for him. Holding his feelings for Julian inside for many years, finally confessing his feelings, he loses Julian. Cyril does eventually recognize his homosexuality and after countless back alley encounters he meet Bastiaan, a doctor, and they enter into a reciprocal love filled relationship.
The novel covers a large time span in Ireland from 1945 until 2015, moving through various locales, following the attitude towards homosexuals in Dublin, Amsterdam and New York. We see the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church and its stranglehold on the people of Ireland. The book opens with the telling sentence that defines the church “Long before we had discovered he fathered two children by two different women,Father James Monroe stood on the altar of the Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, in the parish of Goleen, West Cork, and denounced my mother as a whore.” We follow the struggles of Cyril as he takes us through his life making us cry with him, laugh with him, share his rage, and ultimately embrace him as a character we wish we could know and befriend.
This is an ambitious novel, over six hundred pages, but it is relevant in so many ways. Forgiveness, love, acceptance, eventually move through Cyril as well as moving through his native land. Cyril follows his destiny forward through a life beset with not knowing where he fits in. We, as his companions travel the road with him. I highly recommend this book to all those who love literature that moves one through a gauntlet of emotions and makes the reader feel grateful for having read such a book as this.