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The Year It All Ended (Kirsty Murray)

(Allen & Unwin, 2014)

Young Martina Flynn, known to all as Tiney (pronounced Tiny), couldn’t have asked for a better birthday present. The day she turns 17 is 11 November 1918—what we now know as Armistice Day, when the First World War officially ended. As Tiney and her sisters take to the streets in downtown Adelaide to welcome people, their joy and relief is tinted with the bitterness of the losses suffered during the war.

Hard though the war undoubtedly was, building peace is no easy task, as Tiney and her contemporaries discover. Buildings may be repaired and cities rebuilt, but will the families that have been torn apart by the loss of their young men ever heal? The Flynns take wholeheartedly to looking forward to the future, especially to having their soldier brother Louis back for Christmas, but nothing is ever that simple.

The Year It All Ended tells the story of one incredible year in Tiney Flynn’s life following the end of the First World War, a year of hope and despair, of immense joy and heartbreaking loss, from family weddings to street riots. And especially of dreams shattered and yet others coming true. As her sisters scatter away from home seeking their own fortunes, Tiney has a feeling that the family is disintegrating. At a point when she feels that all is lost, an incredible opportunity comes her way that steers her closer to her yearning to go to Europe on a very important personal mission.

The book also gives us a glimpse into what many German-Australians must have gone through during the war. Tiney’s mother is German, though she’s settled in Australia, and she has a cousin who fought for the Germans and another who was interred in a war camp and is torn by his dual loyalties

The only minor complaint I have about the book are the incredible amount of loss the Flynn’s suffered. At one point, it seemed that almost everyone they knew was dying. But then, what do I know about war? The other gripe is the the Martin Woolf angle. It seemed a bit convenient to me. Also pairing off each of the sisters with a man in their quest for happiness seemed somewhat forced.

Kirsty Murray takes us on a journey to a period in history that often gets glossed over. Through Tiney Flynn’s eyes we feel the pulse of post-war Adelaide and then move on to the war-torn landscape of Europe. The author’s note at the end of the novel tells us that the character of Tiney is based on Murray’s Great-Aunt Lit, though it is fictionalized to some extent. Clearly, a great deal of research has gone into building an authentic setting for this novel, something that is palpable in the reading of it. As Murray says, “History… often focuses on violence…. But history as lived is a tapestry of daily rituals; of eating, cleaning, studying, playing, nurturing, working, loving and greiving… the interconnectedness of families, friends and lovers… the things that matter in the lives of every single human being.” And that is exactly what Tiney Flynn’s story is about.

RATING: 8/10

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