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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-Provoking Peek at Life During Wartime
Jessica Francis Kane's novel spans two timelines: the immediate aftermath of a wartime tragedy in 1943, and the preparation for a TV special about the tragedy 30 years later. The tragedy itself is quite remarkable: a crush of people making their way, without panic, into a tube station being used as a bomb shelter. No enemy action took place that night; nobody was...
Published on October 9, 2010 by Ken Showman

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An all too human story
A re-examination of the 1940's tragic accident at the Bethnal Green tube station being used as a bomb shelter. The book delves into the heads, hearts and attitudes of some of those involved. Reveals that the heads and hearts of humans are not all that pretty. Yet, also, the surprising empathy and understanding we are also capable of. An underline, also, of the fact that...
Published on June 22, 2012 by Kathryn C. Hogan


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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-Provoking Peek at Life During Wartime, October 9, 2010
By 
Ken Showman (Redmond, WA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Report: A Novel (Paperback)
Jessica Francis Kane's novel spans two timelines: the immediate aftermath of a wartime tragedy in 1943, and the preparation for a TV special about the tragedy 30 years later. The tragedy itself is quite remarkable: a crush of people making their way, without panic, into a tube station being used as a bomb shelter. No enemy action took place that night; nobody was trampled; and no closed door blocked people's way. So what happened? And how do people recover from such an event, where there is no clear villain to blame? This is the subject of "The Report".

Despite the somewhat grim-sounding subject matter, the book is not morbid, nor depressing. There are sad moments, and laugh-out-loud moments, but mostly it is a fascintating peek into the lives of a few people who lived in London during the Blitz. The author has a way of finding just the right details about a character that make both the person and the time period come to life. "Mighty William" neatly sums up the self-important alpha dog of the English upper-crust social scene; a priest pours each service's leftover holy wine onto the ashes of a repentant alcoholic.

So is it better to give people the truth, or to give them what they need -- or what we think they need? When an accident happens, how are people changed if they do or don't know whose fault it is? Can forgiveness be offered without understanding? One character says, "It's my practice to always hope people aren't as bad as the worst thing they do." A good philosophy, and part of an excellent book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars entertaining, artful, engaging, November 18, 2010
This review is from: The Report: A Novel (Paperback)
I loved The Report. It has some kind of gentle combination between quick-paced story-telling and skillful literary tone. It is both artful and engaging. As the summaries above and other reviewers have already taken care to note, the novel is about an official government report written in response to a wartime accident in the Bethnal Green tube station in London. Kane tells the story in such a way that lets the reader think more deeply about the characters--not just Laurence Dunne, the author of the govt. report, but the other main characters too, 8-year-old Tilly, her mother Ada, Paul Barber who tracks down Dunne decades later, and the tangled relationships between them all for the rest of their lives--and the broader fog-of-wartime background against which the struggles take place. And she does it without standing over us. For me, then, it was gripping not just because of the elegant writing but because of the author's restraint. Since the story is about a civil servant trying to compose the definitive account of an indefinite event (because all events are), I followed the novel as being about the creation of truth and the burdens of accounting for the variety of experience. It is all to Kane's credit that the writing allowed me to see the possibilities of the story's larger meanings. I'm an academic by day, which means I sometimes have to relearn that reading fiction is entertaining and enlightening. The Report helped me do that.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A terrific novel!, September 6, 2010
This review is from: The Report: A Novel (Paperback)
This is the story of a civilian tragedy that occurred in London during World War II, the lives of people intimately affected by it and a report about it commissioned, but then suppressed, by the government. It was among a few singled out at by the folks at my local bookstore for their special display of new works of fiction. Once I picked it up, I couldn't put it down. I quickly became immersed in the community and lives of the characters and came to feel a personal stake in the outcome. It is captivating, insightful and elegant. I wish I could read it again for the first time.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An engrossing novel set in an actual wartime tragedy, November 9, 2010
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This review is from: The Report: A Novel (Paperback)
The novel is based around the report of an inquiry into the deaths from suffocation, in 1943, of 173 people in a crush at the entrance to an underground station used as an air-raid shelter in Bethnal Green, East London. The siren had sounded but no air-raid materialised. A respected magistrate, Laurence Dunne, was commissioned to write a report for the government and this he did in three weeks, interviewing witnesses, rescuers and officials.

Predominantly through the eyes of eight-year old Tilley, her mother Ada, young clerk Bertram, vicar McNeely, and warden Low we are taken through the events and emotions and fears of the period. Thirty years on Tilley's adopted brother, Paul, is making a documentary film of the tragedy and interviews the report's author. The conflicts between the elderly retired magistrate who wanted his report to bring an understanding of the tragedy rather than allot blame and the young filmmaker who still sees in black and white, truth and wrongness, are well observed. "Your parents said that I knew the crowd wasn't guilty. ... What's the opposite of guilty?', "Innocent?" "Well, they weren't that, either."

Herbert Morrison, the government minister remembered only for his shelter, sat on the report and it wasn't published until after the war. In 1943 I was seven, lived in the London suburbs only about 16 miles from Bethnal Green, was an avid listener to the news on the wireless (and slept many nights in a Morrison shelter). Yet the real tragic events described were new to me. Bad news did not escape government censorship. Likewise a first to me was a description of sewing circles making topographical quilts of German landscapes for the Royal Air Force.

Jessica Francis Kane has woven her characters, their feelings, emotions, reasons, opinions and fears into a compelling novel which I found difficult to put down.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "People think they want the whole truth, but they're far happier with only as much as they can forgive.", August 31, 2010
This review is from: The Report: A Novel (Paperback)
During the Blitz in London in 1943, an extraordinary event took place in Bethnal Green. On March 3, 1943, when the air raid warning sirens went off, thousands of people headed, as usual, toward the nearest bomb shelter, the local Tube station, a one-entrance location which could accommodate up to ten thousand people within a few minutes of their arrival. Some had come here many times and knew that they could reserve cots and places to sleep for the night. Others just took their chances, hoping that the emergency would not last long and that they would be able to return home soon afterward. On this night, something unique happened. One hundred seventy-three people died of asphyxia within a minute of their arrival, all suffocated in the crush on the first twenty stairs of the entrance. Ironically, "not a single bomb had fallen in the city that night."

Author Jessica Francis Kane, who studied the original government inquiry into the reasons for this catastrophe, draws on the facts of the real Bethnal Green case to create a fictionalized version of what went wrong. The actual facts, gathered and put into a report by Sir Laurence Dunne within three weeks of the events, had been hushed up by the government so as not to alarm the people or create questions about the government's ability to handle crises. Wanting to avoid placing blame on people who might become scapegoats, he had written his report with a concern for human feelings and for what humans need in order to deal with disasters during fraught times such as war. "Perhaps," he suggests, "we should only sometimes be held accountable for the unintended consequences of our actions."

A cast of repeating characters becomes more and more developed as the action proceeds. The attitudes toward refugees, especially Jews, affect the perceptions of some of the witnesses, while others, actively involved in the protection of lives during the Blitz, assume blame which was really not theirs to assume. Kane carefully reveals the facts of the case, but she does so within the context of the lives of her characters, always showing how and why these people say and do what they do. The characters elicit sympathy, and when all the details are known, the reader feels the same sorts of conflicts that Sir Laurence Dunne felt when he wrote his report.

Kane does a remarkable job of revealing the feelings of these characters for others who have been involved, and their feelings for the more general needs of the community, regardless of the strict definitions of right and wrong. She writes clearly and succinctly and avoids flights of sentimentality, always showing the big picture, the big moral issues, and the big questions of responsibility. A fine novel, The Report offers a different way of looking at historical events--rationally, but with a kindness toward the participants which protects their integrity and their future lives. "Speculative journalism" and the rush to blame are not yet a way of life at this time. Mary Whipple
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A serendipitous discovery by a writer to watch, October 25, 2010
This review is from: The Report: A Novel (Paperback)
It's always a thrill to read a book I haven't read any reviews of, by an author I've never heard of, and to realize that I've found an exciting new (to me, anyway) writer. I took a chance on The Report without knowing anything about it or its author, because I saw it displayed in the shop window of a bookseller whose judgment I trust, and I thought it looked interesting. That turned out to be a good hunch: I enjoyed it so much, I'm now reading Jessica Francis Kane's first book (a collection of short stories titled Bending Heaven).

While reading The Report, I was torn between wanting to keep turning the pages quickly because the story was so compelling, and wanting to slow down in order to savor the beautiful writing. (I usually tend to skim over descriptions of the interiors of rooms, but the paragraph on page 74 describing the room in which the inquiry is held is so perfect, I read it two or three times.)

A tremendous amount of research obviously went into the writing of The Report, but the research isn't obtrusively displayed; instead, it's woven into the fabric of the book so skillfully, it supports the story without calling attention to itself.

The Graywolf Press should be commended, not only for publishing The Report in the first place, but also for doing such a beautiful job with the physical production of the book. The cover photo and design, the map on the inside front cover, and the diagram on the inside back cover, all contributed greatly to my enjoyment of the book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Report, December 31, 2013
This review is from: The Report (Kindle Edition)
Although this is a novel, it is based on a real event - a tragedy at Bethnal Green tube station in 1943, when 173 were crushed to death trying to enter the shelter. This was a very interesting read to me personally, as my mother was brought up in the East End during the war years and I do remember her mentioning it to me. The book concerns both the writing of the official report written shortly after the event and the making of a documentary thirty years after the tragedy by one of the children who survived.

The main characters are Laurence Dunne, the local magistrate who was responsible for writing the report; Ada Barber, who lost her youngest daughter Emma, and her elder daughter Tillie, eight at the time. There are also other important characters - the local reverend, the warden of the shelter, a local policeman etc, whose views of what happened, and how people dealt with it, are all shown throughout the book. Dunne is given an almost impossible task, in interviewing the shocked survivors in a community that has already endured years of war, bombing, uncertainty and rumour and writing a report the government can accept. The worst of it is that no bombs were actually dropped that night and people are looking for something, or someone, to blame for what happened; especially with rising resentment in the area against recent immigrants and concern about reprisals from Germany after heavy bombing raids there. The stories given by the survivors and witnesses are confused and contradictory and Dunne looks back with pride at this major achievement in his career.

The writing is absolutely beautiful, descriptive and sensitive, and it is an easy novel to get completely caught up in. You feel for Dunne as well as the victims and those that held themselves fairly, or unfairly, to blame. The feelings of loss, despair and guilt are so well dealt with and the author brings the era and place to life brilliantly. It is a wholly satisfying read and I agree totally with other reviewers who have suggested it would make a fantastic reading group book. It has lots of great discussion points and, as historical fiction, will take you back to London in the blitz in a very immediate and thought provoking way. Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An all too human story, June 22, 2012
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This review is from: The Report: A Novel (Paperback)
A re-examination of the 1940's tragic accident at the Bethnal Green tube station being used as a bomb shelter. The book delves into the heads, hearts and attitudes of some of those involved. Reveals that the heads and hearts of humans are not all that pretty. Yet, also, the surprising empathy and understanding we are also capable of. An underline, also, of the fact that the government has the power to release only the information deemed "acceptable" to its constituents.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A strikingly honest yet compassionate story, October 25, 2010
By 
Bookreporter (New York, New York) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Report: A Novel (Paperback)
Whether it's a terrorist attack or a massive oil spill, the ritual that follows a catastrophe has become numbingly familiar: appointed with great fanfare, a special commission subpoenas mountains of documents and convenes hearings in the glare of television lights to cross-examine miscreants and bureaucrats and listen to the heartrending stories of victims. It was not always thus, as Jessica Francis Kane makes clear in this thoughtful novel exploring the aftermath of a real-life tragedy in World War II London.

On March 3, 1943, at the entrance to the unfinished Bethnal Green Tube station in the city's East End, 173 people died in an inexplicable stampede to enter the underground shelter where up to 6,000 residents sought protection nightly from German bombing raids. When a cursory police investigation of the incident prompts public outrage, the home secretary appoints Laurence Dunne, a respected magistrate, to conduct a more searching probe. "Death demands ceremony," Dunne reflects on his role. "An inquiry is just a kind of ceremony."

A disciplined, patient man with a passion for fly fishing and Bach, Dunne methodically sets about his task. Working alone, in less than three weeks he interviews 80 witnesses and produces his report. For the inquisitorial environment of the hearing room, he substitutes a carefully designed setting intended to draw witnesses out, even offering them a cup of tea to calm their frayed nerves. But Dunne soon finds that whether motivated by the instinct for self-protection or the inevitable curse of faulty memory, the witness accounts are incomplete and contradictory, leaving him the nearly impossible task of assembling a coherent narrative.

There is no shortage of potential villains: Shelter warden James Low is tortured by his well-intentioned decision to replace a 25-watt bulb at the entrance on the evening of the incident after the light is later smashed by someone evidently fearing that its illumination will make the station a target for German bombs. A local constable is tardy arriving when a timely appearance might have helped prevent the stampede. The government itself may be partially to blame, with reports of an explosion and suspicion that testing of a new anti-aircraft weapon may have prompted the panic. And most dramatically, Dunne suspects that a neighborhood woman who loses her young daughter in the crush of bodies has triggered the panic by pushing a "refugee" (a code name for Eastern European Jews) woman. The surpassing irony is that on the night of the Bethnal Green disaster, no bombs fell on the city of London.

Dunne adopts as his touchstone the philosophy of the local parish priest, who reminds him, "I always wanted to believe people weren't as bad as the worst thing they do." Determined that "the story should add up to more than the facts," he brings to bear a "mixture of empathy and insight" to the task of sifting through the witnesses' fragmentary recollections of the disaster to produce a report that will explain without condemning.

In this, her first novel, Kane seems comfortable with a similar approach. She's generous to all her characters in sparing them the weight of full judgment, understanding, as Dunne does, that the worst crime most committed that terrible night was simply being human and that no faultfinding could equal each survivor's burden of self-imposed guilt.

Kane also employs an intriguing device to frame the historical portion of the novel. As the 30th anniversary of the tragedy nears, a young documentary filmmaker named Paul Barber approaches Dunne for an interview. In a series of conversations conducted mostly in the quiet home of the now-widowed magistrate, Barber gently probes Dunne's memory and motivation as the older man discovers his questioner's personal connection to the tragedy.

Laurence Dunne, a good and decent public servant, accepts the role he's been asked to play in serving our inescapable propensity to seek explanations and, ultimately, to assign blame. But as portrayed by Kane, he's wise enough to recognize the limits to that process. "People think they want the whole truth," one character concludes after the report is suppressed by the same government official who appointed Dunne, "but they're far happier with only as much as they can forgive."

THE REPORT explores with impressive subtlety and keen intelligence the task facing a man of integrity in trying to reconstruct, and ultimately understand, an inexplicable tragedy. In fact, as Jessica Francis Kane suggests in this strikingly honest yet compassionate story, wise people know there rarely are any simple answers to these painful questions, and the search for them, more often than not, is a fool's errand.

--- Reviewed by Harvey Freedenberg
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be a best seller, January 25, 2011
This review is from: The Report: A Novel (Paperback)
Enjoyed the topic, the writing and the story. Kane does an excellent job in educating us about a perspective of WWII that has not been widely written about. Highly recommend this book.
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The Report: A Novel
The Report: A Novel by Jessica Francis Kane (Paperback - August 31, 2010)
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