What an incredibly creative way to tell a story!
A frame story pitches the Greek gods, particularly Aphrodite and Ares, against Aphrodite’s jealous husband Haephestus, who has caught the two in a tryst. He tells Aphrodite that he intends to put her on trial for her adultery, but is stymied when she admits plainly and with no shame that yes, she was having an affair. But then the conversation devolves into a discussion of the value of her of “work”. Aphrodite herself takes the stand, and to defend herself, tells a story of two couples.
The couples meet and fall in love during WWI. At first, James and Hazel’s story was so stilted and predictable that I almost gave up, but I’m so glad I didn’t! That was just the setup. Later, Hazel meets Collette, a Belgian girl who lost everything when the Germans invaded her town and killed her sweetheart. She later meets Aubrey, an African American soldier with a tremendous talent for jazz, and finds a second chance at love. But the couples are each plagued by various trials. As a black man in the war, racism plagues Aubrey, especially for his relationship with a white woman. When another soldier in his regiment is killed in his place by a white American soldier, Aubrey is forced to vanish into the night–leaving an already traumatized Collette to presume him dead. Meanwhile, war injuries nearly tear James and Hazel apart, several times: first his, then hers.
Throughout the story, Aphrodite calls other “witnesses” to tell their portions of the story: Apollo, the god of art and music, as Hazel is a pianist, Aubrey is a jazz musician, and Collette turns out to be a singer. (We get to hear strains of music in the audio version, which is a great touch!) Ares, of course, when war tears them all apart. Hades when various characters die and reach the Underworld. Several times I feared I might not get my happily-ever-after, but I did: not only for the two couples, but even for the frame story too! Very clever and well done.
My rating: ****1/2
Sexual content: none
Violence: present but as mild as can be expected in a story that partially takes place in the WWI trenches
Political content: historical only