Book Review: While the Gods Were Sleeping

By Erwin Mortier
This work is and isn’t about World War I. Helena, writing journal after journal as an elderly woman cared for by one harsh homecare nurse and one loving homecare nurse, first shows readers what her life has become. Then we see how life was before the war…comfortable, pleasant, and in many ways a mirror image of the nurturing kindness the elderly Helena receives from the kind caregiver.
Not until long into the book does Helena finally turn to the wartime events. This is in part because the visitation of the fighting on her country was so terrible, she has difficulty coming to terms with it even at this late date. But she is driven to do so…not because she believes the journals will leave some lasting legacy; in fact, she tells the caretaker to distribute them at whim, and shows herself to be as unattached to them as falling leaves in the wind.
Really, she is writing for herself. She needs to retrieve from the mud that swallowed so many men dead and alive some understanding of what this monster was and how it changed her and her country. The sweep is epic yet is told from such a close and intimate understanding of one woman’s life that readers cannot help but feel the horror Helena had as a witness.
Then, at the end, we see that Helena’s words have had a broader impact beyond her life. The simple words of her caregiver, relaying her own family’s story of loss, resonates in a few brief pages with everything Helena has needed hundreds of pages to convey through her own efforts.
What shining beauty is in her words.
I was given an ARC (digital) by the publisher to review.
Want more fiction like this? Try Message Stick. A biracial man only faces his hidden past when forced by mysterious events surrounding the disappearance of his best friend.


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