When the World Was Young
A NovelBook - 2014
Acclaimed author Elizabeth Gaffney's irresistible novel captures postwar Brooklyn through Wally's eyes, opening on V-J day, as she grows up with the rest of America. Reeling from her own unexpected wartime tragedy and navigating an increasingly fraught landscape, Wally is forced to confront painful truths about the world--its sorrows, its prejudices, its conflicts, its limitations. But Wally also finds hope and strength in the unlikeliest places.
With an unforgettable cast of characters, including the increasingly distant and distracted Stella; Loretta, the family's black maid and Wally's second mother; Ham, Loretta's son, who shares Wally's enthusiasm for ants and exploration; Rudy, Wally's father, a naval officer, away serving in the Pacific; and Mr. Niederman, the family's boarder, who never seems to answer Wally's questions--and who she suspects may have something to hide--Elizabeth Gaffney crafts an immersive, beautifully realized novel about the truths that divide and the love that keeps us together.
Praise for When the World Was Young
"Elizabeth Gaffney's wonderful, richly imagined novel When the World Was Young cheers the power and resilience of a society-bucking young woman." -- Vanity Fair
"Gaffney's heroines are brave and flawed (in a good way)." -- Marie Claire
"[A] smart, sensitive historical novel . . . driven by fast-paced storytelling." -- O: The Oprah Magazine
"Devastating and compelling." -- Elle
"Richly textured . . . Gaffney transports us." -- Reader's Digest
"Lyrical." -- New York Post
"Gaffney provides a lovingly told story of a time and a place and a house New Yorkers will recognize, if only in the mind's eye." --New York Daily News
"A riveting coming-of-age story . . . a mesmerizing tale." -- Historical Novels Review
"A charming and incisive tale . . . profound." -- Booklist
"[A] layered, delicate novel." -- Publishers Weekly
"A smart coming-of-age tale . . . lively . . . world-wise." -- Kirkus Reviews
"This compelling family drama features an intriguing cast of characters who are well drawn and realistic, while also being emblematic of their time. Gaffney's writing is graceful and leisurely paced, flavored with nostalgia." -- Library Journal
"In this beautifully written novel--an honest and irresistible ride through post-World War II America in all its glory and its shame--Elizabeth Gaffney explores mothers and daughters, upstairs and downstairs, loveless marriages and passionate affairs, without ever losing her story or the fabulous characters that inhabit it." --B. A. Shapiro, New York Times bestselling author of The Art Forger
From the critics
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"Once, when the world was young, our planet had no people on it...The Earth was beautiful, but the Great Maker wasn't satisfied...the Maker all but forgot about the Earth, until one day a spirit child---...sneaked out of her proper place to go exploring...She invented all the forms of life..., one by one, with all their wonder and imperfection. And though it was not flawless,...the spirit child had started something beautiful in motion,...and you and I are part of it." (Part III, Chapter 35, Beatrice)
"...Wally found she had strong opinions about the news. She didn't understand why Ham--or any American--had had to risk his life for the sake of another country...Wally had come increasingly to question the point of conflict."
"Every time she heard someone shout 'Victory in Japan,' she pictured a young mother with narrow eyes and sallow skin--a woman who except for the fact they were enemies, was like her: conflicted, grief-stricken, filled with love for her surviving children but resentment for her absent soldier-husband. And then, in a flash of light, she was gone. Burned to death. Was the woman grateful to be relieved of her complicated life? No. She was nothing anymore. It was an evil way to win the war was what Stella thought. She didn't approve of the atom bombs they had used, but she couldn't say that, not to anyone. Except, perhaps, Bill."
"...Wally's mother finally tiptoed over throught the debris and took Wally in her arms, kissing her on the top of her head. 'I'm sorry darling. I just...reacted. I'm sorry I killed her.' 'Oh, Mommy, I wanted you to see her, to like her,' Wally cried, wrapping her arms around her mother. There were some things, she realized then, that ought not to be seen." (from Chapter, The Queen)
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