A delicately crafted, poignant novel set in the turbulent WWI years. It does not hide the hard truths about the War, but shines with Evie’s innocence and strength.
Evie's War netted Mackenzie's seventh CLA Notable Book Award - and deservedly so.
They offered up the innocence of a generation...
Edwardian England: for Evie, newly arrived from New Zealand, it proves a genteel world of tea parties, tennis and snobbery – but also of the burgeoning suffragette movement and whispers of change.
Change comes sooner than expected, and in a form that engulfs Europe and half the world in violence on a previously unimaginable scale. Drawn into the conflict by a commitment to service and to friendship, Evie moves ever further from the protected world of her childhood. Together with her brother Edmund and many of their friends she must face the reality hidden from those at home, and fight to survive the price the War exacts: of the loss of innocence, of belief, and of love.
7 December 1917
Braved hideously cold weather to tromp across the dunes to the sea, which offered a depressingly bleak outlook: grey waves under a grey sky. But worth it to get fresh air into my lungs. There is something austere and almost depressing about the Sanatorium – perhaps it is only that its oppressive red brick and cold corridors remind me of a prison or workhouse from one of Mr Dickens’ novels. There is a kind of wild heather growing on the dunes, very hardy. I snipped a few sprigs, which now sit in a jar by my bed. This little touch makes me rather homesick – though I cannot say quite where ‘home’ now lies.
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"It's a terrific story, it's superbly told and it's meticulously researched."
Hear bookshop proprietor John McIntyre's review of Evie's War on NZ National Radio.
Media release about Evie's War from Penguin Random House
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Story behind the story – Anna says:
Through my childhood we marked ANZAC Day, 25 April, with a family ritual. Then, I thought of it as a physical challenge. Now, I realise that the choice of activity – climbing a hill and scoring our names on the Trig Station that marked the highest point – had a greater significance, symbolising, for my father at least, the WWI assault on Chunuk Bair during which my grandfather was injured. Though I might have missed that at the time, I did understand that our climb acknowledged the sacrifice and suffering of my Grandfather’s generation, and I certainly understood the importance of the day.
There comes a point when we realise that some of the detail of family stories risks slipping away. The First World War, ‘the Great War’, is part of my family heritage but, even so, there is so much we don’t know – can now not know – of my grandfather’s and great-uncle’s experiences. In trying to pin down some of the detail I had a conversation with my aunt, our last link with the WWI years, who gave me letters written by the brothers. Seeing those words of men long gone set down on yellowing paper led me to a series of questions, and eventually started me on a path of research that grew exponentially. From that beginning Evie’s character arose. I decided to pursue not my grandfather’s story – at least, not yet – but to concentrate on stories less frequently told, of families and communities in England and New Zealand, of women at home and at the Front, of children too young to serve but not to see, of the survivors and the scarred.
The more I read, the more stories I found. I travelled to Europe in 2012, visiting battlefields, cemeteries, memorials, tunnels and trenches. In 2013 I was awarded a writing residency in Belgium by Passa Porta, International House of Literature. This was integral to really capturing the detail I needed. It allowed time for both writing and research, time to develop a feeling for the places for which so many fought and died, and for the dues still owed. In 2014 I returned to the Somme and Artois. I visited more sites, museums, memorials. WWI seems to have got into my bones. Maybe the bones that lie in Flanders and France explain that.
Evie is a girl after my own heart. It was a pleasure to write her, to explore her growing understanding and awareness, to follow her coming of age. It was an absolute pleasure to write in the voice of a century ago – proper grammar alongside colloquialisms I heard in my youth, passed down two generations from the trenches, the songs, the jingoism of the time.
A lot of research went into writing Evie’s story – and more than one book will come from it. The characters are fictional but the stories are not. I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, and will perhaps find it a gateway to an era that, though lost, shaped the world we now know.
What the Reviewers Say
"Encompassing the sweep of the First World War, the book is a tour de force."
– Jean Bennet, Bookrapt
"This excellent novel about a New Zealand girl’s experiences in World War 1 can only be described as epic.
By her own admission Anna Mackenzie became engrossed and immersed in World War 1 to the point of obsession. I am glad she did because this novel is one incredible account of the Great War and of English Society. Anna Mackenzie has clearly put her heart and soul into this novel and I think it is her best. So far!”
– Bob Docherty
“Any criticism of Mackenzie's writing feels a little like picking holes in a Picasso. This novel is a superbly told story of war-time adventure and heroism, which will engage young readers in an important period of world history.”
– Diane McCarthy, Bay Weekend
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