Lisa's Reviews > When We Were Romans

When We Were Romans by Matthew Kneale
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's review
Jul 27, 08

Read in July, 2008

The adventure of the road trip gives way to the unease and fear of being on the run in this beautiful, harrowing story of a British boy’s journey to Italy and back.
The story is old from the point of view of 9-year-old Lawrence — a tricky prospect but one that the author finesses seemingly without effort.
The boy, his 3-year-old sister Jemima and his hamster, Hermann, have been whisked to Rome by the children’s mother, who is convinced that their father is stalking them and trying to kill them. Their mother still has friends in Italy from when she taught there years before, and the family bounces from apartment to apartment and drama to drama.
As they run out of money and Lawrence’s mother slides in and out of depression and paranoia — at one point shutting off the water line into the apartment because she is convinced that her former husband has put poison into it — Lawrence is confused and torn between his desire to help his mother and his fears as he realizes something more is going on.
Kneale’s prose could easily have gone off the rails, sentimentalizing or patronizing the young boy at the heart of this story. But the voice he gives Lawrence is pitch-perfect: artless, guileless, hungry for knowledge and wanting to please. He has just enough knowledge to think he knows what’s going on, without having a clue until near the end. But as adults, we readers can see what’s happening, and we ache in advance for the boy who will find out only too soon.
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