Posts Tagged ‘the report’

At the bottom of the first flight of steps, Ada let go of Tilly.  Just for an instant.  Then she and the girls stumbled onto the landing, where they were steadied by a strong man reaching toward them in the crowd.  With her right hand, Ada started Tilly down the second flight of seven steps, safely into the booking hall.  Ada’s left hand, arm outstretched, still held Emma.  But something was happening:  people were falling onto the last step above the landing, and she felt Emma’s small hand slip.  Ada heard her cry, “Mama!” — then she was gone.

(from The Report, page 30)

On March 3, 1943, 173 adults and children seeking shelter in London’s Bethnal Green tube station were killed in a crush on the stairs that entered the unfinished station.  It was the largest loss of life in England during the war, and what caused the crowd to rush forward is unknown.  The British had bombed Berlin the night before, and there were fears that the Germans would retaliate, meaning that more people than usual wanted to be below ground before the bombers approached.  But no bombs were dropped on the city that night.  In The Report, Jessica Francis Kane writes about what might have happened and brings a little known piece of history to life.

The Report features short scenes that focus on several people present that evening, including a woman and her two young daughters who were caught on the stairs when the people began to pile up to form an impenetrable wall, a clerk who was making his way toward the station entrance when the rush began, the priest from the church across from the station, the chief warden of the shelter, and the magistrate assigned with writing the report about the accident.  The narrative shifts from the moments before and the weeks following the accident to the 30-year anniversary of the tragedy, when a documentary filmmaker approaches the magistrate for an interview.

Kane addresses a multitude of issues in The Report, especially blame and guilt.  The people of Bethnal Green wanted someone to pay for the loss of life, and they blamed the local government for failing to improve the entrance with a center handrail and lighting that would make it easy for people to see the stairs but would not spill onto the street above during the blackout.  The chief warden in particular was saddled with guilt because he inserted a light bulb with a higher wattage than usual before people arrived, knowing full well that residents would smash it on the way down the stairs because they were worried about the German pilots seeing the light.  The Report also touches upon such issues as grief, discrimination of Jewish refugees, government bureaucracy, the consequences of split-second decisions, how to make amends for our wrongs, and how we think about events decades later.

I was captivated by this story, as I’d never heard of the Bethnal Green disaster.  Kane does a good job shifting between multiple characters and merging multiple viewpoints to create a fuller account of the incident.  The narrative was slow in spots, but never slow enough to make me want to stop reading.  I felt that I understood the various characters and their motivations well enough, but because of Kane’s sparse prose, short scenes, and limited time line, I didn’t feel that I truly got to know them.  But connecting with these characters is not necessary here because we’re meant to see only a snapshot and to focus more on the tragedy and its aftermath.

The Report is a moving novel about a horrible event, and without any flowery description, Kane is able to generate much emotion.  Readers will grieve and become angry right alongside the residents seeking answers, and they will appreciate the magistrate’s efforts to bring some closure.  In disasters with numerous casualties, it’s hard to see the victims as individuals, and this is what Kane attempts here.

Disclosure: I borrowed The Report from my local library. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

Read Full Post »