Nine-year-old Lawrence is the man in his family. He carefully watches over his willful little sister, Jemima, and his mother, Hannah. When Hannah becomes convinced that their estranged father is stalking them, the family flees London and heads for Rome, where Hannah lived happily as a young woman. For Lawrence, fascinated by stories of popes and emperors, Rome is an adventure. Though they are short of money, and move from home to home, staying with his mother's old friends, little by little their new life seems to be taking shape. But the trouble that brought them to Italy will not quite leave them in peace. Narrated in Lawrence's perfectly rendered voice, When We Were Romans powerfully evokes the emotions and confusions of childhood - the triumphs, the jealousies, the fears, and the love. Even as everything he understands is turned upside down, Lawrence remains determined to keep his family together. Like the young narrators of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and To Kill a Mockingbird, Lawrence views the world from a perspective that is at once endearingly innocent and preternaturally wise.
When We Were Romans takes us on a journey with 9 year old Lawrence, and the physical travels and actual destination are not important. What is important in this book is the journey of growth and maturing that Lawrence experiences on the way. Lawrence is dragged away from his normal life and surroundings to accompany his mother back to her past, where she believes everything will be better. Along the way Lawrence undergoes many inner battles with himself as he fights to hold onto his childhood and innocence. But as the man of the family he takes on the responsibility of his family. If this weren't enough for a boy to deal with, he also has to come to terms with the fact that his mother is quite possibly losing her mind.
When We Were Romans was a very engrossing story that was paced out like a madman's dream. Narrated by Lawrence in a stream of thoughts and insights from his adolescent viewpoint. While using this technique was a wonderful way of making the reader feel as though they were in the mind of Lawrence, it did have it's drawbacks for me. To keep in sync with the nine year old's narration, When We Were Romans was also written in a childlike way. The spelling errors and lack of grammatical editing was really hard for me to get past. If this sort of writing does not bother you, then I highly recommend this book. But if you are like me, and pick out errors while reading, perhaps you should pick this up on audio CD instead. Just make sure you either read or listen as this story is well worth it.
About The Author
Matthew Kneale lives in Oxford, England. English Passengers won the Whitbread Book of the Year 2000 award and was nominated for the 2000 Booker Prize. Kneale currently resides in London, Ontario.
Published by Nan A. Talese (a division of Doubleday/Random House)
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