Weisman has written a tragedy of rare power and richness. In delineating the ways people are caught in the tides of history, he shows how a few brave individuals manage to stand against that torrent and provide a refuge for those they love. Young David is no hero, but as he discovers the dimensions of his naïveté and the limits of his power, he also comes to appreciate his capacity to comfort those left in the ruins.
If lately you’ve been shuffling through too many novels that feel a little unambitious, vaguely sentimental, even adolescent, “No. 4 Imperial Lane” could give your summer reading some real depth.
He expertly conveys the signs of the times, cultural and political, of Thatcher's rundown, strike-hit, IRA-terrorized Britain, and he grips and repels on the bloody battlefields of Africa. And then there are his characters who matter to us, from rudderless David to powerless Hans (his few remaining pleasures being culinary — sheep kidneys and pig vagina) to luckless Elizabeth.
Weisman keeps us engrossed by withholding the answers to two searching questions: How was Hans paralyzed, and why is Elizabeth without João? All is revealed at the end of "No. 4 Imperial Lane," an epic and exotic drama about the rise and fall of nations and the ebb and flow of love.
An American college student extends his year abroad in Thatcher-ite England and takes a position assisting a quadriplegic in New York Times reporter Weisman’s debut novel.
In love and not in any hurry to leave Brighton, David Heller stays after classes end and takes a volunteer placement as caregiver for Hans Bromwell. Hans, son of the late Tory politician Sir Gordon Bromwell, lives with his sister, Elizabeth, and niece, Cristina, and a dwindling collection of family heirlooms. As children, Hans attended the finest schools while Elizabeth, alone at home, learned from a tutor “who knew nothing but Shakespeare.” As a very young woman, she escaped on holiday with her cousin, fell for a Portuguese doctor who was charmed by her habit of quoting the Bard incessantly, and married. She and Hans exchanged letters while she traveled to Africa, where her new husband was posted “to win the hearts and minds” of Portugal’s colonies as they fought for independence. David finds himself drawn into the siblings’ story, and Cristina’s, just as his own family is pressuring him to come home. Weisman pulls the Bromwells’ story and David’s together, creating a cleareyed study of relationships and grief, touching on both personal and societal tragedies without letting the narrative bog down. A tiny quibble is that David explains British English a fair bit: "She…reached over to put on a bathrobe (dressing gown, she'd say)." The novel succeeds as historical fiction portraying Africa’s colonial wars in the 1970s and England’s social upheaval in the 1980s and as the story of young people facing the world as it is and not as they’ve hoped it would be. Weisman’s prose is clear and evocative with plenty of detail but no unnecessary flourishes.
A fresh, enlightening book, complex, emotionally resonant, and readable.
Weisman, a New York Times economic policy reporter, successfully weaves a captivating story in his fiction debut. In 1988, David Heller, an affluent American college student on exchange at the University of Sussex to escape a home life consumed by grief, decides to extend his stay in order to spend more time with his British girlfriend. He takes a position in Brighton as a caregiver to keep his residency permit. Inside No. 4 Imperial Lane, David meets middle-aged Hans Bromwell, the quadriplegic he must care for; his sister, Elizabeth; and her beautiful teen daughter, Cristina. The Bromwells, children of the late Gordon Bromwell, a Tory member of parliament, live in the eccentric squalor of lapsed aristocracy; they make do through the sale of their remaining antiques. Elizabeth dreams of getting a job—it'd be her first—but her only education was from a tutor who knew nothing but Shakespeare. David finds himself drawn into the Bromwells' world. Through letters and stories, David learns of Elizabeth's marriage to a Portuguese military doctor and their life together in Africa in the waning, bloody days of the Portuguese empire. Weisman brings a reporter's sensibility to the chapters in Africa, but doesn't let it overshadow the storytelling, which has all the action and suspense of a good war story. The link between the third-person account of Elizabeth's time in Africa and David's first-person narrative in Brighton can feel disjointed at times, but Weisman imbues David with enough emotional heft to bridge these two stories about relationships, grief, and knowing how to return home.