Published by Simon & Schuster
Available in ebook, audio, hardcover (29 October 2020) | paperback (24 June 2021)
Source: Review copy received from publisher
ABOUT THE BOOK
They need him to remember. He wants to forget.
1918. In the last week of the First World War, a uniformed soldier is arrested in Durham Cathedral. When questioned, it becomes clear he has no memory of who he is or how he came to be there.
The soldier is given the name Adam and transferred to a rehabilitation home. His doctor James is determined to recover who this man once was. But Adam doesn’t want to remember. Unwilling to relive the trauma of war, Adam has locked his memory away, seemingly for good.
When a newspaper publishes a feature about Adam, three women come forward, each claiming that he is someone she lost in the war. But does he believe any of these women? Or is there another family out there waiting for him to come home?
Based on true events, When I Come Home Again is a deeply moving and powerful story of a nation’s outpouring of grief, and the search for hope in the aftermath of war.
“They will call him so many names. He had been Peter to the woman in the cathedral, but soon he will be Mark and Robert and Ellis. He will fill the spaces of Franks and Phillips and Daniels. So many hopes and voids………For the moment he is Adam, but he doesn’t particularly want to remember who he may be underneath.”
1918. When a man in a soldier’s uniform is arrested at Durham Cathedral, for causing damage (he was drawing a bird using chalk), he claims to have no knowledge of his name or where he has come from. Given the name of Adam Galilee by the police, he is sent to a rehabilitation home in Cumbria, under the care of two doctors, who will attempt to reclaim his memory and, his identity.
One of the doctors tasked with treating Adam is James Haworth. James is a former officer who has his own wartime demons to battle. His nightmares and the feelings of horror and guilt of seeing his men dying and wounded and having to leave them behind, especially someone close to him, haunt him on a nightly basis, all of which has an effect on his own mental state, and on his marriage. Although he has other patients at the home, he takes a particular interest in Adam and feels compelled to want to help him.
There are so many elements to this story – guilt, grief, loss, hope and all are interwoven sensitively and with compassion. It’s not just about the men who went to war and returned, changed forever – it’s about those who didn’t return at all, and the loved ones that were left behind. Left wondering what had happened to their son or husband or family member who had been reported as “missing in action” but had never been heard of since.
Following the interment of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey in 1920, and in an attempt to find out Adam’s identity, his doctors decide to enlist the help of a newspaper by posting a photograph and a brief description to see if any relatives come forward. To their surprise, hundreds of women queue at their gates – all wanting to believe that Adam belongs to them. They eventually decide that three claims should be investigated further; so who is Adam. Is he,
- Celia’s son Robert
- Anna’s husband Mark
- Or Lucy’s brother Ellis?
The way the story unfolds, there are clues that indicate that Adam could be any one of these men, although one in particular seemed more credible. Surely these women would know their own son or husband, wouldn’t they? They would know their physical features. With each further disclosure that fitted with Adam’s mannerisms and personality, I did hope that Adam had found a family to return to but frustratingly he didn’t seem to want to feel any connection. Was it that he genuinely couldn’t remember – or that he just didn’t want to go back to his old life – whatever that was. However with James so keen to find a ‘fit’ for Adam, I ended up feeling quite sorry for him, he was being paraded like an exhibit and I was hoping that he wouldn’t be made to leave with someone who quite clearly meant nothing to him.
The book is as much about these women, their families and the many thousands like them, as it is about Adam. The women are so desperate for answers and in their grief and distress, they cling to any hope, even when evidence is against them.
With a timeline beginning in 1918 going through to 1925, this is such a beautifully written and powerful story. Adam’s love of nature and gardening was his salvation and the narrative is rich with detail and vivid descriptions of the surrounding landscape and flora. He was also a talented artist – this formed another strand of the story which was heartbreaking and almost broke me.
Adam’s story, and of those like him suffering from trauma and memory loss, what we now know as PTSD, is heartbreaking on so many counts. When I Come Home Again is an emotive and engrossing read. The characters are authentic – their individual personalties being so well defined and I was so completely engrossed in all their stories.
I didn’t find this a quick read – its not the sort of book you can quickly skim through. You really do need to take your time and carefully read each page. The prose is heavy with description however the story and dialogue flowed easily. It is excellent and I have no hesitation in recommending.
My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the tour invitation and to the publisher for providing the review copy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Caroline completed a PhD in History at the University of Durham. She developed a particular interest in the impact of the First World War on the landscape of Belgium and France, and in the experience of women during the conflict – fascinations that she was able to pursue while she spent several years working as a researcher for a Belgian company. Caroline is originally from Lancashire, but now lives in southwest France. The Photographer of the Lost was a BBC Radio 2 Book Club pick.