"The Hidden Bend" by Guy Cranswick

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In The Hidden Bend Guy Cranswick weaves together three very disparate stories of people traversing personal (and physical) terrain that will change their lives - it could be their undoing, or it could be their salvation. Outcomes are unclear for these protagonists, although some are hinted at more strongly than others. This is a distinguished, assured fiction - a worthy, understated piece in which the inner journeys convince and satisfy. I recommend it.

The three heroes, completely unknown to one another, grapple with their own challenges. Piers is a financier working in London; he allows himself to have an affair with a woman who, we clearly see, is a  questionable match for him. In another narrative stream, Nastasyia Vladimirivna must travel from Kiev to New York to identify her murdered daughter and deal with her remains. The third, and perhaps most important, protagonist, is an unnamed ex-soldier, mustered out of the victorious revolutionary army, who must return to civilian life.

It is this third character who in my opinion holds the key to the book. He has survived deadly combat as part of a bloody revolution. The bends in his life could all perhaps have occurred by war’s end, and his civilian life smooth sailing, but no. He returns to his family home, which is still led by a bullying father. He uses his skill as a mechanic to help his family get by, but all it does is get the family deeper into trouble with the new Communist regime.

Mr. Cranswick devotes the fullest and deepest treatment to this character. The new regime, for which this ex-soldier risked life and limb, doesn’t recognize his contribution. In fact, he becomes a fugitive from the authorities simply because he tries to help his impoverished family. There is no way he deserves this treatment, and no way he would have predicted his final outlaw status. If this humble, virtuous man, who has built his own self worth, must cower and run from the mechanism of the state, what hope do any of us have?

Hope draws our heroes onward at the end of their tales. The Ukrainian mother in New York receives help from unexpected quarters, and learns more of her late daughter’s life, and the knowledge changes things for her. Piers’s hopes for himself and his family are the most tenuous of any of the characters’.

The author’s three stories resemble each other; they share the theme of people going through a crucible to a hopeful other side. Obviously I found the story of the ex-soldier the most compelling, and the Ukrainian mother’s only a little less so. The philandering Londoner is an interesting character, but a careless, self-indulgent one, who did not exert the same hold on my interest. Overall, a book well worth your time.