Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski is about taking chances: daring to love again after having lost all. Although as a post-war novel it captures one man’s search for himself in the form of looking for his lost son, Little Boy Lost remains relevant to all men and women as they search for their own abilities to love, to serve, and to persevere in the midst of atrocities.
In the aftermath of World War II, Englishman Hilary Wainwright is trying to come to terms with his life, which is now in tatters. Since he’d been living in Paris before the war, friends are no longer where they once were, and post-occupation Paris is nearly unrecognizable as itself. His beautiful European wife, Lisa, has been captured and killed by the Gestapo. Most significantly, his son, John, whom he met only on the day he was born, has been lost.
I honestly had never considered the impact of the war, occupied France, and so forth, on the families that had been living in France. As I read, I felt the pain that Hilary was going through. I felt like I was emotionally on edge at the stress of the situation and the heart-breaking events of occupied France, from families torn apart to fear and betrayal. My own son is two years old, and so I was constantly thinking of him as Hilary thought of his own son. In that respect, I could better relate to Lisa, the mother who had been killed but who had first found some way of protecting her son. I loved how the story all worked out.
In some respects, I think Laski wrote with a detached perspective. I never felt quote like I was completely relating to Hilary, and only in retrospect do I see that that is how it needed to have been done. Laski was writing herself very close to the horrors of the war. She herself could not immerse herself into the horrors; she needed to have a little bit of distance as she presented the facts. The best part of this approach was that I never felt manipulated. I was emotionally drawn in, but never tricked into emotion. That is a successful novel.
The title, I think, refers not just to the young child but also to the man Hilary, who is looking for his son. He also is lost without love, and he’s afraid. I love how it all comes together in the end. For a while I was pretty frustrated (and horrified) by Hilary’s selfishness. It made him truly real, though, for after all the heartache and loss he’d been through, feeding his passions and loneliness through superficial means did make sense.
I read Little Boy Lost because after all the reviews during Claire and Verity’s Peresphone week, I thought I’d give another Peresphone book a chance. Claire at Kiss a Cloud had a very short glowing post about Little Boy Lost that caught my eye and then Nat at In the Spring is the Dawn also had a review. I was able to find a copy of it in the state of Illinois via Worldcat, so I was pleased to be able to read it. Note that, ironically, the only copy I found is not the new Peresphone-published copy but the original 1949 printing. Nonetheless, the book is the same!
In the end, I enjoyed it. It was a perfectly satisfying quick read that let me become emotionally attached to the characters and left me thinking. It’s given me a definite interest in reading more Persephone books! In fact, I’m off to search for more that may be in my library system or in the state of Illinois somewhere.