Our Thursdays With Maureen Group just discussed Alexander McCall-Smith's 2008 standalone novel La's Orchestra Saves The World.
La (short for Lavender) has had her heart broken and moves from London to a small village at the start of World War II. She lives a quiet life and being from London she craves a little more intellectual stimulation than the townspeople can deliver. Eventually she volunteers to help with the war effort by taking care of a local farmer's chickens. This gives her days purpose and makes her feel more a part of village life. One thing leads to another, she meets a mysterious Polish airman and starts a beloved community orchestra to boost moral and lighten the wartime mood.
This selection is reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. McCall-Smith's writing makes you feel you are transported back to wartime England. This book is a little more serious than his other books. He has stated that he wanted to highlight the everyday people of World War II who were never honored as heroes but who were brave just the same as they endured the war years.
He also says "The other group I wanted to pay tribute to was the Poles. Polish servicemen played a major role in the war. Their airmen, for example, participated in the Battle of Britain, that crucial battle that decided the fate of Europe. At the end of the war the Poles were betrayed and the contribution of their forces largely ignored. In the victory parade in London, the Poles were not allowed to march with everybody else (Stalin insisted on this). So those brave men stood at the side of the road and wept. This book is about them too.".
McCall-Smith is the prolific author of many novels plus nine series including the well known No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, the Isabel Dalhousie series and Corduroy Mansions. One of our members reads almost all of his series and said that the 44 Scotland Street books are her very favorite. They revolve around the comings and goings at 44 Scotland Street which is described by the author's website as occupying "a busy, Bohemian corner of Edinburgh's New Town, where the old haute bourgeoisie finds itself having to rub shoulders with students, poets... And number 44 has more than its fair share of the street's eccentrics and failures...".
McCall-Smith's books are quiet character studies. There is not a lot of action but small gems of life's lessons are gently given. La's Orchestra Saves The World is a wonderful selection for a brisk late autumn day.