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Authors: Sarita Mandanna

Good Hope Road: A Novel (61 page)

BOOK: Good Hope Road: A Novel
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The sunrise grew stronger still, gilding the water and scattering what little mist remained. These were the last few hours, Jim thought to himself, of the life that he had known.

Madeleine had held on to him all night. He’d looked at her this morning, at that auburn pelt of hair.
My Venus Anadyomene
. Placing a gentle hand on her swollen belly, he had felt the baby kick.

Young Jimmy dipped a hand in the water, swirling patterns through the gold. He rested his chin on the wooden rim and watched with childish absorption, the sway and shift of his reflection in the current. Jim looked at his son again, tracing his features in his mind. Then pushing aside the tarp lying at the bottom, he hoisted the black mirror into his arms.

He’d asked Obadaiah if he’d stay on at the farm while he was gone. ‘And if I don’t make it back—’

‘You keep that gris-gris on you,’ Obadaiah interrupted. ‘It be powerful magic. You keep it close, you hear?’

Both men shook hands. ‘Damn fool Yankee,’ Obadaiah muttered, voice choked with emotion as he clapped him on the back.

They said no more, but Obadaiah was awake especially late that night. When Jim finally fell asleep upstairs, it was to the soft tune of his harmonica.

He’d woken this morning and lain in bed for a while, watching Madeleine sleep. All the preparations were made, with only one thing remaining to do. He’d dressed quietly and, going to the mirror, had hoisted it off the wall. He didn’t know what lay ahead, if and when he would return. But what he did know with utmost conviction was that the past that had held sway over this house for so long must at last be buried.

He had traced the scalloped outline that the mirror had left on the wallpaper, the distinctly brighter patch where it had rested all these years. A stab of pain shot through him as he thought again of his father, sitting captive in his armchair as he stared into the glass, so tightly bound to loss.

He had wrapped the mirror in a tarpaulin and placed it in the truck. He was about to leave, when Jimmy came stumbling out. ‘Dad?’

‘What are you doing up so early?’ Jim had asked gently.

‘Is it time?’ The boy had looked at him anxiously, rubbing at his eyes. ‘Are you leaving already?’

He ruffled his son’s hair. ‘Not yet.’ He hesitated. ‘Hey, you want to come down to the river with your old man?’

The mirror caught the morning sun, gleaming like polished jet. Jim thought of the Major again as he tipped it slowly over the side of the boat. It bobbed incongruously for a moment, the water lapping at its gilded edge. Then a quiet sigh, a murmur that seemed to spread through the river. Jim watched it sink below the surface, feeling his father close and hoping he’d at last found his peace.

He was lowering the oars into the water once more, when, ‘Dad! Look!’ Jimmy pointed wide-eyed towards the woods.

Jim turned, and saw the bobcat sitting between the trees. Still as a statue, just sitting there and watching them, its pelt like smoothest velvet and frost bearding its face.


I grew up an army daughter, surrounded by the officers and soldiers of the Gorkha battalion that my father went on to command. This is where I formed what is a deep and abiding respect for the men and women in uniform everywhere who so selflessly serve their countries, prepared to make the ‘ultimate sacrifice’ if need be.
Good Hope Road
was born of a desire to pay homage.

In initial concept, the story began in the Sixties, weaving back and forth between the Korean and Vietnam wars. As I began the research process, however, I stumbled upon an account of the Bonus March, a startling episode of history and one with echoes in the present. Including this in the narrative would mean a shifting of time periods, to World War I and the years leading up to World War II. As I started to dig around for American volunteers at the outset of the Great War, I discovered a number of highly educated young men from privileged backgrounds who had signed up with the French Foreign Legion, filled with noble ideals and determined to fight the good fight in this, the war to end all wars. There were other volunteers too – Bob Scanlon, the AfricanAmerican boxer, and Eugene Bullard, who went on to become the first AfricanAmerican military pilot. It is their experiences that formed the collective backdrop of James and Obadaiah’s stories.

In terms of canvas, I wanted the larger brushstrokes to be those of the war, but for the details to lie in the special kinship of the battlefield, in the unlikely friendship that grew between the two men. And then, in the aftermath of the war, to partly shift the backdrop to the Bonus March while maintaining the focus on James, now a troubled veteran, and his son, Jim, struggling to understand his father. I hesitated a long while with post-war James, trying to get inside his head. It was the image of the Claude mirror that I went back to over and over as a metaphor for his altered self, his pale, leached reflection in it as if revealing the extent of the damage that the war had done.

Good Hope Road
is a work of fiction, it sits upon the foundation of much that actually occurred. David King, brothers Paul and Kiffin Rockwell, John Bowe, the poet Alan Seeger, Henry Farnsworth, Edmond Genet and Victor Chapman are some of the American volunteers who left behind letters, diaries and memoirs detailing their time with the Legion, for which I am highly indebted to them. In reading David King’s memoir in particular, there was a strange feeling of things coming full circle. After the war, King moved to India for a while. Here I was now, nearly a hundred years later, having made the reverse journey to America, and reliving his days in the Legion.

It was while researching the Bonus March of 1932 that I first happened upon the story of Joe Angelo. While I have imagined his camaraderie with Mike Connor, a fictitious character, and indeed, all the details of his stay at the Anacostia camps, the account of his relationship with General Patton are based on reported facts. As for the March itself, I drew much from Paul Dickson and Thomas Allen’s painstakingly detailed work,
The Bonus Army: An American Epic
. The New York Public Library proved, as always, to be another valuable resource. An especially treasured find was a collection of copies of the
BEF News
, the newspaper that was published by the Bonus marchers. Their pages, fragile, tattered and falling to pieces, brought the Anacostia camps to vivid life in accounts of a certain Rooster Curtis and the daily BEF cartoon.

Last, but not least, the fiery Major General Smedley Butler was cause for inspiration. His ‘War is a Racket’, extracts of which are quoted in
Good Hope Road
, dates back to 1933. Shamefully, eightytwo years later and in the aftermath of Iraq, Afghanistan, Kargil and more, his words still hold true. Our soldiers set off to war much fêted and praised, and frequently under the dazzle of media spotlights. When they return, however, all too often it is to societies eager to forget, and ill-equipped to offer them adequate rehabilitation support. We have made strides in the right direction, but we need to do so much more. Beginning, perhaps, with a better understanding, an improved accounting of the true costs of war. One that takes into consideration not merely the lives lost and limbs damaged, but the hidden internal scars borne by all too many of those who do return. One that assesses the impact not only on our soldiers but also on the
of those who serve, one that measures the insidious, longreaching shadows cast into the future.

Good Hope Road
is an attempt, however humble, to explore some of these themes.


First and foremost, my deepest love and gratitude to my mother, for her rock-steady support, for multiple readings, for her ideas and encouragement at every stage of the writing. My husband, for his unwavering championing, my father for advice on all matters battle-related, my in-laws for their support and especially their understanding. My sister, for her incisive, unstintingly honest assessments, and Arjun, with me in so many ways through the writing.

Merrily Weisbord, for her uncommon grace and boundless generosity. My aunt Dr Leela Chengappa, for drawing on her many years with the Veterans Administration Medical Department to share her knowledge of PTSD. Biswarup Chatterjee and Jeff Willner for early read-throughs and suggestions. My cousin Shirod, for multiple pickings of his brain and whose service with the French Foreign Legion I freely leaned upon. Barry ‘Baz’ Joseph for sharing his insights, and the friendship that came about as a direct result of writing this novel. Doug Patteson, for his detailed review and hospitality at his New England farmhouse. Andrea Wetzler, for her large-hearted help with all things French. Sampriti Ganguli, Dave Volman and Maya Vijayaraghavan for myriad kindnesses. Lakshan Appachu for taking me flying and being my on-call aviation expert. Jim Crimmins, whose experiences on a naval submarine were a springboard to imagining life in the crowded trenches. Gautham Appaya, Eric Gibbs and Trevor Jacobs, for answering even the oddest of research questions. Professors Bill Labov and Gillian Sankoff, for their tips on dialect. Sukanya Dasgupta – you know why you are here. Polly Kelekis and Vrinda Deval, for egging me on through the long haul. Deepali Bagati, Sangeeta Modi, Shubhra Bhattacharya and Vimmi Singh for being in my corner.

Kirsty Dunseath, editor extraordinaire, for helping make
Good Hope Road
better, including coming up with this title, and for going to bat with so much conviction. I am truly fortunate to have her. The lovely Lisa Milton, for her staunch and enthusiastic support over the years. Jennifer Kerslake, Craig Lye, Rebecca Gray, Steve Marking and the team at Weidenfeld & Nicolson. David Davidar, for his frank and unsentimental guidance, Pujitha Krishnan and Aienla Ozukum at Aleph. The team at Juritzen Forlagen for their confidence in this book. David Godwin, my formidable agent, Heather Godwin, and the women of DGA, both past and present – Amy Mitchell, Caitlin Ingham, Lisette Verhagen – thank you all so very much.

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BOOK: Good Hope Road: A Novel
12.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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