What a great read!
Summertime is set in the Florida Keys in 1935. Whilst part of the story is based on actual events that befell this area at that time, the characters and their story are purely fictitious. It is a novel that addresses the period of American history that shamefully let down WWI veterans of both colours and where black Americans were shockingly treated.
Summertime tells the story of a small, segregated Florida community that experienced two significant events that year. The first was the arrival of 250 battle scarred war veterans, angry, disillusioned and abandoned by their government upon their return. The government of the time, having failed them by withholding the promised post war bonus, decided to direct the men’s energies positively by offering them a chance to earn some money on a public works project but they were subjected to very poor living conditions in searing heat and humidity. On top of this the veterans faced hostility and fear from the local Keys residents, ordinary American people for whom the veterans had risked their lives.
It is in the light of this that we are introduced to our key characters, Henry a black war veteran returning to his home after years of absence, Selma his sister and her friend Missy, home help to a dysfunctional white family and carer of their son, Nathan. We meet the Doctor and resident Police Chief, the family that run the local store and an interesting range of characters who all play parts in this moving story.
The second key factor is the season in which the story is set: hurricane season.
Vanessa Lafaye slowly and carefully creates a picture of the people, area, way of life, surroundings and the atmosphere both in terms of the weather and the racial tensions and injustices of the time. She achieves this with great sensitivity and compassion for her characters and the situation they find themselves in.
The tension builds slowly and agonisingly as the story progresses and is mirrored by the building heat and atmospheric changes caused by the increasing threat of an approaching hurricane.
This is one of those terrific reads that takes no time to be gripped by. It creates characters that you care about who find themselves in an ever worsening situation. Intelligent and compelling storytelling – you won’t be able to put it down.
Review by Hilary Stockwell
Vanessa Lafaye hails from Florida herself but has been in the UK for 30 years and living in Marlborough for 13 of them. Summertime is her first novel. The book was selected as a Richard & Judy Summer Read for 2015 and became an international best-seller, translated into 5 languages. Summertime is available from Hungerford Bookshop and The White Horse Bookshop in Marlborough. (In the US the novel was published with the title Under a Dark Summer Sky)
Vanessa is currently writing her second novel which is a companion to Summertime and based on another astonishing, true episode in American history. When not writing, Vanessa leads the Marlborough Community Choir.