Sunday, July 2, 2017

We Shall Not All Sleep by Estep Nagy

In 1965 two families, the Quicks and the Hillsingers, gather on an idyllic Maine island. They are preparing for Migration Day when the sheep are gathered and transported to the rich clover fields of a neighboring island, a time of feasting and celebration.

Seven Island and its archipelago of islands have belonged to the families for seven generations; their ancestors had made their fortunes as privateers. The Blackwell sisters Lila and Hannah married into the families: Lila marrying Jim Hilsinger, a CIA operative, and Hannah marrying successful financier Billy Quick.

This year, Jim Hillsinger has invited a man from their past, John Wilkie, to join them.

Activist teacher Hannah's idealism led her to the Communist Party until she saw its irrelevance to the problems of her Harlem students. She couldn't escape the notice of the government agencies looking sniffing out Red spies, leading her to commit a desperate act.

Lila's husband has been falsely accused of treason and ousted from the CIA after an illustrious career; in Warsaw he had been feared by the KGB as The Black Prince.

As the adults struggle with their crisis of family and country, Jim Hilsinger is determined to harden his twelve-year-old son Catta in preparation for his survival in the vicious Cold War world as he knows it--by stranding the boy alone on an island overnight.

"Majestic cliffs rose up behind him. Birds called. A flock of sheep tumbled down the hill, and the smell of cut grass and smoke ran alongside the ethereal salt. The sun was hot and the wind cool. He had never, in all his life, been anywhere so beautiful. Someday, he thought, you will have to leave this place." 

John Wilkie's first sight of the Maine island made me nostalgic. We had camped in Maine for seven or more trips, in love with those woods rising from the ocean, the islands rimmed with granite shores, the lobster boats bobbing from trap to trap in the sunshine. We climbed the mountains and gazed upon the green islands that arose abruptly from the intense blue sea. We sought out the rock-bound tidal pools, the sweep of sand beach in its bowl of cliff, and the inland tarn with its beaver and Siberian Iris.




"Among the rock and penury of Northern Maine, it was a geological freak that there existed here a mile-long white-sand beach in a crescent shape, in a protected harbor facing the open sea."

The families make thick pancakes spread with local orange butter, gather around fireplaces in the evening; to Wilkie they are "moments of perfection" that "often come toward the end of something rather than its beginning, that the light of every supernova comes from an explosion."

The children's world parallels their parent's. Fairy houses are made and baby lambs are born, there are days wandering the island with homemade biscuits secreted in pockets for lunch. Then there is James who covertly bullies new arrivals and leads the boys in brutal games.

Catta is victim of both worlds, abused by his older, jealous brother James, and abandoned, unprepared, by his father on Baffin Island, expected to prove he is 'a man.' It is the end of innocence, a realization that the adult world is corrupt and that children are reared to be warriors "for the slaughter."

We Shall Not All Sleep is an intriguing Cold War family drama with elements of a spy thriller and mystery. The complicated and convoluted thread that snares the Quicks, Hilsingers, and Wilkies is slowly unraveled. I was riveted.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

We Shall Not All Sleep
Estep Nagy
Bloomsbury
Publication July 4, 2017
$26 hardcover
ISBN: 9781632868411