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The Soldier's Return: A Novel Hardcover – August 12, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Right from the start, when the train carrying British soldier Sam Richardson home to Wigton after his service in the Burma campaign breaks down two miles from town and he and his army comrades have to walk home, it is clear we are in the hands of a compassionate, clear-sighted writer. Bragg's work has been compared to that of Hardy and D.H. Lawrence, not without some justice. His smalltown people are closely and warmly observed, but without a shred of sentimentality, and although this story is familiar¢a man home from a dehumanizing war finds it hard to readjust¢it has seldom been imbued with such rueful humanity. For Sam, England after WWII, and after the sufferings he and his men endured in the frightful jungle campaigns, is stuffy and limiting; soon he starts dreaming of wider horizons. His adored wife, Ellen, however, is happily rooted in the little northern town where she grew up; their small son, Joe, who has hardly known his father, is bewitched but also terrified of him. How the family works out its fate in the shabby postwar years is Braggs story, and he makes of it something at once endearing and heroic. So many scenes, the regimental reunion, Joe's efforts to win friends among the tough town kids, a final scene at a railway station as heartrending as the movie Brief Encounter, linger in the mind. The book is a small classic, deeply touching and true.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In 1946, Englishman Sam Richardson returns to his wife and young son after fighting in the "Forgotten War" in Burma. Like so many who fought beside him and lived to return, Sam feels suffocated by life in tiny rural Wigton. The men who were left behind ask too many painful questions, and nightmares rob Sam of sleep. Work is scarce and demeaning, and rebuilding his life with his wife, Ellen, and young son, Joe, is fraught with awkwardness, misunderstanding, and frustration. Ellen wants a home with a garden and maybe a second child, and Sam is tempted by the government's offer of relocation to Australia. In the end, readjustment nearly destroys Sam's family. This latest work from Bragg (A Time To Dance; On Giants' Shoulders) is thoughtful, sensitive, and alive to the raw edges of relationships under repair, and he writes with delicacy and remarkable strength about rural England's struggle to return to the security of a past forever changed by the war. This work won the 1999 W.H. Smith Literary Award, and its sequel, Son of War, is already a best seller in England. This is among the best of the many post-World War II novels coming from England, which include Mick Jackson's Five Boys and Andrew Greig's The Clouds Above. Highly recommended for all popular fiction collections. Susan Clifford Braun, Aerospace Corp., El Segundo, CA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 346 pages
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing; 1st edition (August 12, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1559706392
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559706391
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,933,175 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Wendy Kaplan on January 12, 2004
Format: Paperback
It's a theme repeated endlessly ever since the Odyssey, and yet this story of a soldier's weary return from war reads like it's all brand new.
Following a grueling and horrendously brutal campaign in Burma in the waning days of World War II, Sam Richardson returns to his home, a tiny village in England's Lake Country called Wigton. There, as he has dreamed of for months and years, he is reunited with his pretty young wife Ellen, and his young son Joe, a baby when his father went off to war.
Soon enough, it becomes apparent that the happy reunion was only the tip of the iceberg. A tangled web of emotions, frightening to both Ellen and Sam, and unspoken by both, threatens to destroy the relationship they both want so badly to keep. Sam is haunted by the atrocities and death he has seen in the war, and can hardly keep in his own skin as he dreams of escaping to far-off lands to make a new start. Ellen, used to being on her own, is frightened by this stranger with her husband's face, and clings even more desperately to the village of her birth and the way of life she is accustomed to. And in between them is little Joe, accustomed to having his "mammy" all to himself, and now misplaced by a stranger he must call "daddy."
Alongside this very private drama of three very private people is the larger story of the village of Wigton, which suffered all manner of privations during the war--but whose people are still clinging strongly to village ways.
Bragg, who grew up in the Wigton area, has created a masterpiece, in my opinion. It is followed by "A Son of War," a continuation of the Richardson saga, and something I intend to read immediately.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on December 18, 2000
Format: Audio Cassette
Melvyn Bragg's The Soldier's Return is the memorable and poignant story of Sam Richardson, a young man from rural England who has fought in the Burma campaign in World War II and who then returns home to a world totally different from the world he has left--everyone and everything has changed.

Sam has seen such atrocity that he is now harder and less willing to show a soft side. His son Joe, now five, doesn't know him. His wife has been successful working two modest jobs and does not want to give them up. Sam has been exposed to the outside world, a world which has shown him how limited his future is in the socially inflexible world of Wigton, while his wife Ellen, in contrast, has been supported by the friendships, traditions, and familiarity of this community, where she knows everyone.

The tensions within the family and within individual characters grow and boil over, as stiff-upper-lip-ishness comes into conflict with the human need to communicate and share, creating real drama and intensity. Bragg's written dialogue is completely natural, and his descriptions and his narrative style are simple, as is his choice of vocabulary. The reader will have no trouble following the various threads of the story while learning much about Cumbria, post-World War II social upheavals, and the kinds of personal problems that may have been typical for many other young soldiers. Mary Whipple
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By MJS on January 5, 2009
Format: Paperback
Based on the reader reviews, Bragg is not well known, but those who have read him are impressed. In this book, his portrayal of the people in the north of England is masterful. They exemplify what Flannery O'Connor said about her family: that the only emotion they allowed themselves to express was anger. Loving, forgiving, and understanding thoughts run through the minds of both Sam and Ellen, but their expression is stifled in the hard atmosphere of their home town. They are at an impasse trying to decide whether to try to re-establish their lives in the familiar but devastated town or to risk everything for opportunity in Australia.

England took a long time to recover after WWII, and the efforts of Bragg's characters to put the deprivations and horrors of the war behind them are poignant. In 1946 rations were still short, housing was scarce, job opportunities demoralizing. After coming of age and proving himself in the jungles of Burma, Sam finds himself adrift without so much as a pat on the back. Ellen too has grown during her husband's absence, working, raising her young son, and finding support from an ad hoc family. She finds that Sam's return, which she's longed for for four years, doesn't automatically set things right.

The reader is rooting for these obviously intelligent and capable people. Their ultimate decision, literally the last gasp of the book, leaves the reader wanting the rest of the story. And there is a sequel I'm anxious to read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 31, 2003
Format: Paperback
This post-war book is thick with British idioms and terms, and so it was read slowly and deliberately! This is a very well-researched book. It describes a returning soldier's coming to terms with the horrors of war which he had experienced in Burma during WWII. The story opens with his return; very little of it is flashbacks, except when necessary, and only to tie it in to a current happening in the plot. The soldier's wife and young son have learned to be self-reliant while he was away, and their adjustments to his return are slow and painstaking. Well written, yet the ending was too hastily composed, in my opinion. A long, drawn out plot which ends abruptly, toying with one's emotions, is a characteristic of books which some like....I prefer a calmer resolution.
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