There were still belts of rusted barbed wire to be seen, and here and there the burned-out hull of a tank entombed in a grassy mound that had once been putrid mud. Woods of shell-splintered stumps were growing again. A greenness had crept over the land, a blanket of grass and vine, sapling and leaf, to hide the places where a generation had been butchered.
(from Circles of Time, page 4)
Circles of Time, originally published in 1981, is the second book in a trilogy by Phillip Rock about the Greville family from the time of World War I into World War II. I loved The Passing Bells, which spans the years of the Great War and all the changes it brought about. Circles of Time opens in 1921, as Anthony Greville, Lord Stanmore, tries desperately to hold onto the old way of life by rebuilding Abingdon Pryory, the English manor house whose fall into disrepair symbolized the changes in the social class structure brought about by the war.
While Lord Stanmore pines for the good old days, the rest of his family struggles with the consequences of the war and the role they played in it. His daughter, Alexandra, made some choices he cannot forgive, and she doesn’t expect to find happiness again. Her brother, Charles, fights to recover the memories he has repressed, and their younger brother, William, unsure what to do with his life, drowns his pain in drink, jazz, and women.
Meanwhile, Colonel Fenton Wood-Lacy opposes the efforts to force him out of the army, even when he is sent far from his family to the deserts of Iraq. The Greville’s cousin, Martin Rilke, won a Pulitzer for his journalistic coverage of the war, but now he must work his way through grief and contend with people who still are not ready for the truth as depicted in his book, A Killing Ground. And Jamie Ross, the Greville’s former chauffeur, returns to England after achieving business success in America, exemplifying how the war enabled some lower-class people to work their way up the social ladder.
Circles of Time is mostly about how the “war to end all wars” ushered in a new age, from the jazz clubs and women realizing more sexual freedom to the rampant inflation in post-war Germany that led to widespread poverty and the rise of Hitler and the National Socialists. Martin’s trips to Berlin and Bavaria toward the end of the book foreshadow the events that will transpire in the last book of the trilogy, as the nations move toward a second world war when the wounds caused by the first have barely healed. Rock was a fantastic writer, bringing the post-World War I landscape to life, all the chaos and the change, and letting readers tag along while the characters they have grown to love evolve with the times.
Even while the world is swiftly moving forward, Rock doesn’t let readers forget about the massive loss of life, the destruction of the landscape, and the veterans with missing limbs or shell shock left behind by the Great War. Through the character of Martin, a German-American with family in both England and Germany, Rock shows readers the impact of the war on the winning and losing sides and how people prospered and despaired on both. Circles of Time is highly recommended for historical fiction fans, with its captivating characters and unflinching portrayal of people and nations in turmoil and how one horrific war led to another.
Disclosure: I received Circles of Time from William Morrow for review.
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