Sadie Jones returns to the past in her new novel Small Wars, a psychologically probing story about a British military family posted to Cyprus in the 1950s. Like her first award-winning novel The Outcast, which explored the lives of two young people struggling to break free from the expectations and conformity of village life, the families in Small Wars are defined by the rigid expectations and rules, this time those of the military. But here, Jones takes things to a deeper level, showing how the principles of war affect an honorable soldier, husband and father. The political circumstances, rife with terrorism and torture, also mirror the current geopolitical situation in a striking parallel.
The Trehernes are a military family—husband Hal is the last in a long line of army men and his wife Clara fully understands what is expected of her as a military wife. They live with their two small children on the army base in Episkopi, Cyprus during the Emergency that pitted Cypriots who wanted to unite with Greece against the occupying British government. The bombings, shootings, and bloody demonstrations begin to take a toll on Hal. His sense of right and wrong is severely tested, especially after witnessing the torture of a young Cypriot. When in a moment of despair he takes out his rage on Clara, their relationship beings to disintegrate. Things worsen as terrorist actions increase and, as a safety measure, Clara and her daughters move off base to Cyprus’ capital, Nicosia. But violence follows them there as well, leading to an unexpected personal crisis for both husband and wife.
Though Clara quickly gains our sympathy, Small Wars is really Hal’s story. An experienced, dedicated soldier proud to serve his country, he moves from unquestioning obedience to an almost grudging defiance and it is a painful journey to follow. Without the military to structure his life and his thoughts, he is adrift, questioning everything that has made him the person he is. A young novelist writing about something that happened long before her lifetime, Jones shows remarkable empathy for this man whose core is badly shaken by the brutality of this ‘small war’ and so will the reader.