The Report, Jessica Francis Kane, Graywolf Press, 2010
If the purpose of a report is to explain what caused a tragedy, then I should begin with maps and diagrams and endeavor at once to describe the particulars of the accident in detail. But if perhaps the better purpose of a report is to understand a tragedy, then I should begin with a woman in a crowd, surrounded but alone.....
These felt like the truest words he'd written so far.
It was 1943, in the thick of World War II in Bethnal, Green, London. Air raids were so common that that the residents of this close-knit neighborhood no longer found it remarkable to gather up family and bedding and head into the tube station for shelter. On the evening of March 3, however, something went terribly wrong - instead of reaching safety, more than 170 people were crushed to death as they descended into the entryway of the station.
For a community which was growing accustomed to losing sons in battle and having neighborhood homes and buildings decimated by bombs, this was a different, incomprehensible kind of loss. The Report is the fictionalized story of Laurence Dunne, the real investigator assigned to investigate the disaster, the impact of the tragedy on the individuals involved, and the meaning of truth.
The Report is a moving and thought-provoking novel. It gave me a better understanding of life in London during wartime: the frequent visits to shelters, the severity of lifestyle (threadbare clothes, the novelty of finding fruit at the store, government suggested meal plans, living under blackout orders), the struggle to go on during a time of profound loss, the constant tension of waiting for bombs to fall, a different kind of tension when Jewish refugees arrive in an insular Christian community. I was especially moved by the question of what constitutes the truth: as beautifully expressed in the quote above, are explanation and understanding the same thing? It was intriguing to consider Laurie Dunne's reasons for deciding what to include, and what to leave out of the final document. The Report also left me wondering what, in the wake of a similar tragedy today, would be the same, and what would be different? The novel isn't meant to be an investigative thriller - at times it can even move a little slowly- but it is quietly suspenseful in its own way. The story and its characters grew and grew on me, especially as some long-buried truths begin to surface, and the last chapter actually left me in tears.
I wholly recommend The Report to readers -especially historical fiction fans- who enjoy a good ponder.
I received a copy of The Report in exchange for my donation to Write4Red, a fundraising drive organized by writers for the American Red Cross. Many thanks to Graywolf Press for supporting this important cause.
The Report is Indie Reading Challenge Book #5.