The year is 1968 and the world is changing forever. During the month of May, students are rioting and workers are striking across the globe, civil rights are being fought and died for, nuclear bombs are being tested, there are major conflicts on every continent, and war is raging in Vietnam. Against this volatile background, three women strive to keep everything together.
Rose must keep her dignity and compassion as a West Indian nurse in East London. Amalia must keep hoping that her son can escape their seedy life in Lisbon. And Mrs Johnson in Washington DC must keep writing to her son in Vietnam. She has no-one else to talk to. Three different women, three different countries, but all striving to survive – a courageous attitude that everybody can relate to.
Although Sleeping Through War is a work of fiction, this somewhat hidden history attempts to humanise a few weeks in time that were so stuffed with monumental events that it’s easy to forget the people involved. The author was a child in 1968 and lived in London and Lisbon during the 1960s. She met women like these and didn’t want their voices to go unheard into the future. Readers of both history and literary fiction will enjoy this emotionally-vivid work that weaves fiction into fact.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I first began reading Sleeping Through War by Jackie Carreira. I knew going in that the story centers around three women during a very volatile time in history all throughout the world. I expected perhaps that all three women would be connected somehow, but that is not the case here and I am rather glad for it. Each of the three women in this story has a distinctive voice, but they all have one thing in common. They are all learning and doing what they need to do in order to survive in 1968.
Amalia is living in Lisbon with her young son, Carlos. She is a widow after losing her husband five years prior. Amalia wants the best life for Carlos and she makes many sacrifices in order to give him the life he deserves. Money is tight and sewing isn’t enough money to live on. So, she makes the biggest sacrifice of all in order to survive with her son. I really took to Amelia’s story. I don’t think there is anything a mother would not do for their child/children. Amalia is that mother. She does what it takes just to get by even if it means giving a little piece of herself along the way.
Rose is a nurse in an elderly care facility in London. She hails from St Lucia, where she left her parents and siblings. She is caring and treats people with kindness. Something that is not always shown to her in return. She also becomes a surrogate mother to her neighbor, Brenda and Brenda’s young daughter often checking in on the both of them and offering her advice and a friendly ear. Rose may not have much but she is very giving and warm hearted. Rose may have been my favorite character of the three women. For Rose, it was a different time in the 60’s and people of color were not readily accepted in society by everyone. I don’t think she ever let it bother her all that much, though. Rose is just grateful that she has a job as a nurse, a few friends, and enough money to pay her rent and be on her own.
Mrs. Johnson is a mother living in Washington, D.C. Her son is overseas fighting in Vietnam during the war. She writes heartfelt letters to her son daily where she pours out her whole heart and soul. She keeps him informed about what is going on at home and what she sees on the news. I am not a parent so I can only imagine the fear and anxiety any mother would go through knowing their child is fighting in a war. I couldn’t help but feel compassion for Mrs. Johnson and also an understanding of how these letters she writes makes her feel connected to her son.
Intweaved throughout each of their stories are historically accurate snippets that bring you back to a time in our history and show just what it was like to live in 1968. I felt it really showed what each of the characters were going through during this time period and reminded us that these women were living through this every single day. It was such a time of uncertainty and you can feel it through each of their stories.
Sleeping through War is a beautifully told story that is both poignant and moving. It grips you right from the beginning and you can’t help feeling for each of these women and what they are going through. Although their stories are quite different, they all struggle in their own way. This story is simply told but has so much meaning behind it. I really treasured every moment of reading it.
About The Author:
Jackie Carreira is a writer, musician, designer, co-founder of QuirkHouse Theatre Company, and award-winning playwright. She mostly grew up and went to school in Hackney, East London, but spent part of her early childhood with grandparents in Lisbon’s Old Quarter. Her colourful early life has greatly influenced this novel. Jackie now lives in leafy Suffolk with her actor husband, AJ Deane, two cats and too many books.