The Camel and the Butterfly

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My first review of an audio book, I could not have hoped for a richer or more immersive experience of this gentle, wise and oh so perfectly charming story. The pitch-perfect narration, pleasant pacing, and wonderful soothing voice of this audio recording enthralled me for an afternoon and a morning, straight-through and captivating, until it was all done.

Thomas Mirren is a calm, stoic man – a nonagenarian – who in his long and intricate life has learned to take things as they come, both the good and bad, not dwelling in particular on the latter, which in Thomas’s case, has unfortunately exceeded most people’s definition of not only the “bad”, but perhaps also the survivable.

For Thomas, serving in a strategic capacity as a military paratrooper in WWII, has seen, experienced and even enacted things, monstrous things, he does not speak of – long compartmentalized, but not forgotten, as he plans his days around his comfortable routine of chats at the graveyard with Ellen (his beloved and deceased wife), visits to the Legion or pub with his two military chums, (the endearing Frank and the stalwart Colonel) as well as light shopping for the crisps, prawn sandwiches, beer and whiskey that serve as both food and necessary sustenance.

Until one day, – you may call it a mistake, a lack of judgement, or an act of moral cowardice – Thomas’s world is impinged on, violently, with lies and innuendo and a stain on his reputation that may or may not be reversible.

“What good could come from shaming old men?”

The story is told from the point of view of several characters based in Britain, including Thomas, as well as a separate voice which emerges early on from France, weaving in an intriguing tale describing secret wartime acts, intermingled with present-day life in a tiny village in Lyon France. Some of my favorite sections in this book include the author’s warm and evocative rendering of these wonderful French protagonists and their genial village life (contrasted cruelly with the terrors experienced by the same village during German occupation in the war).

As each sub-plot evolves, a deep and wonderful connection soon becomes clear, sparking up a tension that begs release, as well as a set of incipient themes that are as life-affirming as they are penetrating.

As Thomas’s world rallies and rages around him, and the reader squirms and yearns on behalf of him, it becomes clear that our main protagonist embodies an entirely different perspective.

Neither sinner nor saint, (monster nor hero) – ever-guileless Thomas, bright-blue eyes alight as he perches on Ellen’s favorite lavender-blooming bench, surrounded by butterflies, has lessons in store for us all.

Who has not both soared and shamed – and experienced all the gradations in between?

The lines we draw, the lives we judge, the world we see – whose view matters, at the end of it all, but our own?

Readers who long for hugs and happy endings will find much to adore in this touching and inspiring story – no spoilers here (you will need to read the book to find out more). Suffice it to say that I closed this book with regret, a lingering softness for Thomas, Lyon France, and yes, a heaping plate of prawn sandwiches.

A great big thank you to the publisher and the author for an audio ARC of this lovely book. All thought presented are my own.


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