Friday, September 18, 2009

God Is an Englishman by R. F. Delderfield

Ever since I can remember, I have always been drawn to big books. And I’m not talking about ‘chunky’ ones only but big in meaning, characters and events, very often spanning generations. Therefore, when I first looked into R.F. Delderfield’s God Is an Englishman trilogy, I knew I was up for a feast.

God Is an Englishman is the first book in this wonderful saga about the Swann family. Adam Swann, a 31-year-old cavalryman in the service of Queen Victoria’s army, decides to break off with his family’s military tradition and gives up his soldierly life in lieu of starting anew in England as a businessman. The road ahead of him will not be easy, as old sentiments still prevail where people making a living in a new, industrial England are looked down on and someone like Adam, giving up his army career is thought foolish. Adam Swann persists in his desire to be his own boss and not spent his life serving somebody else, even if it’s the Crown of England. In his struggles to become a respectable and successful owner of a horse-carriage business, he has a few supporters, including his young wife, Henrietta and, surprisingly, his own father. The readers follow Adam and his personal and business lives for nine years. These are very tumultuous years for England as well. It is the 19th century, the country changes from an agricultural one into an industrial empire, with railroads ruling the transportation, mills, mines and factories replacing the farms and Adam Swann takes on a daring project of using horses as his road to success.

I thoroughly enjoyed God Is an Englishman, so much so that even before I finished it, I went and got part two (Theirs Was the Kingdom). It’s not an easy read by any means, but very captivating and really a requirement for anyone who wants to read more about one of the most important periods in England’s history. Some might say that it’s reminiscent of Dickens’s books but I should say that probably only in the time set. Through Delderfield’s book I got a hopeful outlook, not a grim one. True, it’s still England where poverty is on the rise, where child exploitation flourishes but it’s also England where one doesn’t have to belong to royalty in order to become well-off, successful and if they’re persistent enough, respected. ‘Common’ people now have a chance to have careers and to be truly in charge of their lives. I must say that I liked this approach and I just was riveted by Adam Swann and by the whole process of him starting from a scratch and, despite unexpected failures and ‘bumps ‘, holding on to what he believed and never losing sight of what Adam deemed as success.

That’s one great part of God Is an Englishman. Another one is the multitude of characters, bad, good and just average, but they all change, they all grow and, as a reader, you really have your pick in which ones are going to be your favorites. Mine was Henrietta, Adam’s wife. I think she grew the most throughout the novel. She changed so much but still somehow retained her youthful innocence despite some occurrences that would turn many into bitter, prematurely old women. Henrietta and Adam’s marriage is not an easy one, some would even say it’s doomed from the beginning, but yet again, Delderfield just serves us this happy story, with both parties fulfilling their dreams, among the turmoil of their times. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t a ‘happily-ever-after Cinderella’ story but an uplifting one nonetheless, despite the many problems that could endanger both Adam’s and Henrietta’s happiness.

I say that if you’re a ‘saga junkie’, if you are even remotely interested in the history of England and want to meet people, who in the end you feel are your friends or at least next door neighbors, God Is an Englishman and you will be a perfect match.

Special thanks to Danielle J. from Sourcebooks, Inc. for sending me a copy of this book for review.
Special thanks to Sourcebooks, Inc. for re-issuing the Swann saga and other R.F. Delderfield's titles. The editions are wonderful and I wouldn't have known about this 1970's British writer without Sourcebooks.

Book Info:

Author: R. F. Delderfield
Title: God Is an Englishman
Published in: 2009
By: Sourcebooks Landmark, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc
ISBN: 1402218214

If you'd like to see what others think please check out the reviews by:

Medieval Bookworm here
We Be Reading here