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Atonement    by Ian McEwan order for
by Ian McEwan
Order:  USA  Can
Anchor, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

When Briony Tallis, thirteen years old in pre-war (1935) Britain, misconstrues something she witnesses and accuses Robbie Turner of a crime, it changes the whole family's future. Her sister Cecelia is particularly affected. Histrionic at best, misguided at worst, Briony grows up during the war years to regret her denunciation. She loved to write and produce plays for the family. Her imagination knew no bounds. After reality hits along with the world conflict, Briony starts to grow up. She becomes an adult and lives her life as a successful writer, but never forgets her accusation and is bitterly sorry for it.

McEwan's take on the rescue of the English at Dunkirk is magnificently written. His words give a whole new context to that piece of history. 'But nothing came. Only the sounds of insects determined on their late spring business, and birdsong resuming after a decent pause. And then, as if taking their cue from the birds, the wounded began to groan and call out, and terrified children began to cry. Someone, as usual, was cursing the RAF.' Descriptions of London and the nursing world during World War II bring home to the reader the sacrifices and dedication necessary to simply exist. I was a child at that time and remember details, but not the human anguish that accompanied them.

In Atonement, McEwan has written a compelling tale of a family's interactions. He shows us how one action causes the next and so on, in a domino effect, 'til there is no turning back. It's a moving story with such believable characters that the reader feels a part of events. It's easy to see why it was a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice and a Booker Prize Finalist. Treat yourself to a copy and enjoy hours of fine reading about people you would like to know.

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