Book Club: Early One Morning
1. Small acts of heroism during WWII
Early One Morning pivots around one act, one decision, made by a civilian during the Nazi occupation of Rome in 1943; a young woman named Chiara decides, quite suddenly, to save a Jewish boy from death by pretending he is her nephew. It is only after she acts that the ramifications of this decision begin to sink in. Stories of such incidental yet extreme bravery never fail to move, inspire and astonish.
2. An impressive, textured and layered narrative
The narrative of Early One Morning switches from past, to the near past, to the present as we follow the consequences of Chiara’s one big decision, the fall-out, as it were, both immediately and then decades later. This decision, to pretend a young Jewish boy is her nephew, does not initially turn out well. Years later, in the 1970’s, however, Chiara is presented with a chance to redeem herself.
3. At its core, this is a family saga
While the Second World War and the Holocaust cast an inescapable shadow over the events of the narrative, this is not a Holocaust novel; essentially, Early One Morning is about how the love of one person can shape an entire life. It is a moving and heart-breaking tale that suggests family is more than common blood.
4. An intriguing, fully-realised and imperfect female lead
Chiara chain-smokes, she is outwardly capable and successful, yet she doubts herself; she has never married and is haunted by the past. She is imperfect and yet Bailey has created such a fully-rounded and believable protagonist, she wins you over in very few pages and commands your attention to the very end - even when she does a terrible thing…
5. Rome: affectionately and poetically depicted
Bailey has a knack for sharp, poetic description, which is most apparent in her affectionate depiction of Rome – both the dilapidated Rome of the forties and the relatively cosmopolitan Rome of the seventies. Rome, she writes, is 'a place of such startling gold-and-white', a place where 'electric cables hung like decorations on the walls'.
6. An important narrative at a time of widespread civil war and aggression
Around the world, people are being made homeless and violent wars are raging. A narrative like Early One Morning shows, in a very un-maudlin way, the tenacity of the human spirit in the face of adversity and the opportunity for real and meaningful bonds to be made in times of crisis.