Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Rumors of Peace* Ella Leffland

RUMORS OF PEACE- Ella Leffland

Chronicling four years in the adolescence of a young girl in rural California, Rumors of Peace also spans the four years of US involvement in World War II.

With Rumors of Peace, Ella Leffland manages not only to tell a unique and compelling coming of age story, but also to put into perspective the utter ridiculousness of war. Her narrator, Suse Hanson, begins the book as a carefree tomboy at the age of ten, and leaves us four years later, a much more somber, almost jaded, young woman. What happens to her in between is just the simple stuff of adolescence: crises with boys, friends, hair and school. What makes this novel, and this character, so different, is that Suse brings the same watchful, steady gaze to the thorny question of sexual attraction, as she does to question of whether or not Mr. Nagai, the man who has operated the flower shop on Main street her whole life, ought to be sent to the internment camps with the rest of the “dirty Japs.” Watching Suse’s progress through adolescence and American progress through WWII, it often seems to the reader that both the country and the girl are experiencing growing pains.
Suse lives in the fictional town of Mendoza, California, a small oil refinery town inland on San Francisco bay. Her world is so insulated that, though her parents are Dutch immigrants, she is barely aware of the German invasion of Holland and the brewing war in Europe. This peaceful childhood is shattered by the bombing at Pearl Harbor and the air-raid drills and country-wide war fever that follow.
Suse is smart, but not in a book-learning sort of a way. In fact, she does very badly at school, where she spends most of her time drawing cartoons of “Japs” with their heads blown off. She is smart in the way that only kids can be who watch closely and see everything- when they are trying to grasp all the myriad and mysterious different pieces of this world and make sense of it all. Each new piece of information that Suse learns, changes her understanding of the world dramatically. At some point towards the middle of the book, Suse has a sudden understanding that the people who died in Europe were real people just like herself- that they had thoughts and feelings and emotions and must have hated to die. Suddenly the whole scope of the war looks different to her and her unquestioned hatred of the enemy suddenly dissipates. Can you even remember the days when a complete paradigm shift was possible? Not to mention several in the course of a month?