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Children of the Dust by Louise Lawrence is a novel that presents the lives of three generations of people living during, in the fallout from, and decades after a nuclear war comes to the UK.
This book was first recommended to me when I was twelve years old, having flown my way through Carrie's War, and evidently showing my teacher that I was developing a slight obsession with all things war. Truthfully at twelve, the themes and motifs in the book far exceeded any understanding I had (I even have the vocabularly book I used to keep and from this book I had to find out what facism was... even now I'm not convinced I know!!). Whilst much of the book passed me by whilst I was blissfully unaware, the more basic themes of survival and love resonated with me enough to cause me to seek out a copy of this book when I hit my early twenties, reminiscing for my childhood days.
Told in three parts, with each part focusing on the life of an individual, Children of the Dust tells the tale of survival in it's most basic form. It talks of the survival not only of people, but of hope, and of a future. It shows the lengths people can go to to ensure survival, and not only as an individual but as a race of people.
It explores the idea of evolution, both morally and physically, with some people becoming a superior race able to survive in a hostile, ultra violet environment, whilst others adapt to living underground, working hard on a losing quest to restore life the way it was before war broke out.
A darker, more serious book than many that I have read on the theme of war, it has a slightly political theme at its heart, exploring the changing role of power through the eyes of individuals and through the auspices of the government. Whilst these themes are present, and evident in the action that takes place, as an audience we also come to know each of the characters, and to see how they are affected by the war. We see those who make selfless decisions so that their young can survive, like Veronica, or those who make selfless decisions so that the human race can survive like Catherine, but we also meet those who, even under conflicting circumstances continue to make selfish decisions at the detriment of others.
The story is woven from generation to generation, each holding a link to the previous, through the tale of first Sarah, then Ophelia and then Simon. Having these contrasting versions of events allows the reader to see all viewpoints of the war and the ambiguity of opinion on the best way to move forward. Having characters with such differing perspectives is helpful in allowing the reader to explore these views themselves, although it's hard not to draw conclusions about many of the characters (and apparently mine were not very forgiving!) We see the progress of evolution through a very personal perspective.
The novel becomes pretty cyclical, with characters early in the book pitying those who were affected by the nuclear war, with their blind eyes and white downy fur, yet by the end of the book it is those who have been affected, and who have evolved pitying those who have lived hidden away from any change.
Whilst the themes can be pretty heavy, the action and characterisations are solid, and cause you to questions yourself throughout the book. Often billed as a classic, and present on many a school syllabus, this is a book that definitely lives up to being a classic. It has stood the test of time, and remains relevant even now, 27 years later.
I remember reading this book in school many, many years ago, and upon rewatching the frankly terrifying 1980s nuclear war drama 'Threads' recently (they showed us that in school too) I decided to revisit Children of the Dust, which has a near identical theme. The book opens with a schoolgirl being called home due to there being a nuclear attack scare, but unfortunately her father works too far away to come and collect her in time so instead she sets off on the short walk through the countryside from her school to her stepmother's house, shared with her baby half-brother and their pet dog.
One thing that always stuck in my head was the way in which the calm, gentle beauty of the British summer countryside is described as the protagonist walks home- a hushed and sunlit midday that will soon give way to an inferno of destruction followed by nuclear winter. Similar to Threads, the story is told entirely from the narrow point of view of the survivors as they struggle for survival in the stepmother's house- the outside world is cut off completely -gone in fact-, and the new reality is devastatingly bleak and getting more desperate with every hour that passes. The situation forces the protagonist to change from being a petuant child to a more mature and stoic figure as the days and weeks pass, and much time is invested in the relationship between the schoolgirl and her stepmother, their mutual dislike of eachother changing into a dependent relationship as they desperately try to survive in the cold and the dark.
Again, like Threads, the story continues on into the (relatively) distant future following the nuclear catastrophe, as the tiny percentage of the nation that have survived try to rebuild society as best they can. I felt that the book took a slightly silly eco-hippy turn here, as it turns out that the main protagonist has a special power of sorts that is a result of being exposed to radiation, and 'eco-churches' start springing up in settlements all over the country. I have no problem with green politics in general, indeed they are more important now than when this book was written, but the way this was presented just didnt gel with the gritty and dark first two thirds of the novel. Threads, which saw a female protagonist survive on into a post-nuclear Britain that had reverted back to the bronze age, offered up a similar glimmer of hope but in a much more believable way.
I would say that this book is ideally suited to young adult readers, and is certainly worth a read, even if it does go off the boil somewhat towards the end.
The book I am reviewing is a novel called Children of the Dust by Louise Lawrence. It is priced at $11.43. It was first published in Great Britain by the Bodley Head in 1985, then republished by Red Fox in 1995 and once again republished by Red Fox in 2002.
The novel is a science fiction novel and this is shown from the strong evidence is what is taking place and what is going on such as the nuclear bombing mutants and the survival of mankind. The main characters in the novel are Sarah, Catherine, William, Veronica, Bill, General Macallister, Erica Kowlanski, Ophelia, Dr Stevenson, Dwight, Simon, Grandfather Harden, Laura, Sowerby, Harris, Lilith and blind Kate. The novel is split into three parts and is the story of Sarah, Ophelia and Simon these three people are distantly related as is told to us at the beginning of the parts but is unknown to the three. The novel begins in a grim fashion with the build up to absolute destruction by nuclear bombing as is shown with the quote Everyone thought, when the alarm bell rang, that is was just another fire practice. But bombs had already fallen on Hamburg and Leningrad, the headmaster said that a nuclear attack was imminent. With this quote the author establishes in our minds that this is the end of the world as we know it and with the short sharp sentences firmly pastes in our minds the fear and horror of the attack. This links in with the science fiction conventions because of what is happening and the setting. In the first part of the novel it is highly informative of what is happening with the nuclear attack. Gradually in the first part of the novel you realise that Catherine is the chosen one to go on she is very careful about what she does and decides carefully before she attempts to do something. In the second part you realise that it is Ophelias duty to help the mutants and in the last part you realise that it is Simons duty to find out what is going on and who he is.
The basic plot of the story is set around Bristol England in the first part of the story then moves underground into a bunker in the second part then back to Bristol England in the final part. The novel portrays many different views towards the world and I think this shows that the author is experienced and knows what she is talking about. After the disaster and tragedy mankind is divided down the middle into mutant and normal. The people who lived inside the bunker were the same as when they had gone in but the people on the outside changed into to mutants. The author seems to indicate the bias humankind has most of the time. As the story goes through the book you get a kind of unusual attachment for example when you know theyre going to do something bad or life threatening your like dont do it. You feel emotion when you read the book it is almost as if you are there with them. In the novel it also explores dark themes of war, justice and survival and puts forward the question how far would you go to survive. The story is excellently written in my opinion it shows a great understanding of the science fiction conventions and in the way it describes the information. It is almost an extremist view on human society that I totally agree with if we do not end the tension between countries and do not resolve world problems I have no doubt we will be in that situation ourselves. The ending is good in an uplifting sort of way and shows that there is hope for mankind even after the disaster of nuclear war. The ending is a great set off for a sequel.
This a great read for all ages especially teenage children it shows us that we should not take what we have for granted and how easy it is to lose all that we have. It is excellent in showing teenage children that possessions are not absolutely everything. The story shows great emotion and is a fantastic read. If you only take one thing from this book it should be that the world is not just about possessions but of love and personality and should be cared for just as we care for ourselves. I gave the novel 8 and a half stars for emotional depth and a great informing of what is going on. I hope I have encouraged you to read the book and if you do I ensure you will enjoy it as much as I have.
Written by Patrick Graham of Yr 9 Oakhill college
Note: I also handed this in as assignment fingers crossed i get a good mark!!!!!
I first heard of this book by reading a review of it on Ciao by baby1j2005. I am interested in reading about survival and how people cope with extreme situations. I have read many factual accounts from survivors of the Holocaust of WWII and from the inhumane nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I have also read a lot of fiction based on the plague and nuclear holocaust, so my interest in Children of the Dust was piqued and I bought it from Amazon for £4.99.
The novel arrived yesterday and I finished it a few hours later. With its striking cover, it is a book you want to read without delay and it is easy to finish, due to both its compelling story and its brevity at only 174 pages.
The novel is split into three parts, each one featuring one main character Sarah, Ophelia and Simon. Each part follows on from the former, but is set a few years afterwards. The characters are linked though and the same places are used, so we can see how things have changed over time.
The novel begins without much preamble, as an imminent nuclear attack is announced at fifteen-year-old Sarahs school, giving her time to run home. She gets there to discover her step-mum Veronica has created a nuclear shelter in one room of the house. She has sealed the doors and windows and stocked the room with clothes, blankets, food and water.
When the bomb goes off, Veronica and Sarah, plus William (5) and Catherine (8) Sarahs half-siblings are all safe in the room and survive the blast. The childrens father, Bill, is away at work and they dont know if he has survived or not, but they understand hes not part of their life now and they have to try to continue without him.
This part explains how the family copes, first surviving in the dark, smelly room together and then later as Veronica and Sarah begin venturing outside to find more provisions. The family soon realise that one of them is staying healthy and destined to survive, so they begin to plan for their own deaths and the future survival of the strongest.
This part follows the familys father Bill, who does survive the nuclear bomb by encountering a genetic scientist called Erica, who has a pass for a government bunker, where they both go to. This section describes the way of life there and how the society underground is structured, comparing it to the society of the outsiders as they are called.
While those living in the bunker are following similar rules to the world they used to live in, those outside have created their own system for the continuation of life. The bunker is based on military leadership and an emphasis on scientific study, whilst the outsiders are learning how to live off the land in the same way as their ancestors had done decades earlier.
Bill is a teacher and his ideas attract teenager Dwight Allison, who is a bit of a rebel and a revolutionary. When he discovers the military plan to take the cattle from the outsiders to preserve their own existence at the expense of those who reared the herd, Dwight decides to take action and tries to persuade both Bill and his daughter, Ophelia, to join in.
The final part is set fifty-five years after the nuclear explosion. Those in the bunker have realised they cannot survive as they have been. They need to look for other places to live and Simon ends up injured and outside, where his white skin cannot cope with the heat of the sun and the blinding UV rays.
He is taken in by a young woman called Laura and introduced to the community of the outsiders, where things are efficient and the race is thriving. However, the radiation from the bomb and the need to adapt to the climate change has created a mutant brand of albino humans with light fur and psychic powers. Can Simon fit in to this new world, being the different one in this strange society?
This novel is supposed to be a book for teenagers. You would certainly assume so by its length and that Sarah is fifteen. There is only one minor swear word in the book, but many of the themes of the novel are necessarily adult. Nuclear fall-out and radiation sickness cause long, slow, painful deaths.
I would certainly say the book isnt suitable for under-twelves, but whether you would want to let your own teenagers read this is up to you. It is obviously a frightening and depressing subject, probably one which you may not want your children to think about. However, in our increasingly scary world, our children are learning many things we may have wished they had remained innocent of for a while longer. (I had to explain what a suicide bomber was to my kids on Thursday and when they asked WHY someone would kill themselves in that way, what is the answer?)
Anyway, the book certainly doesnt seem to be dumbed down for kids and as an adult, I didnt find it too young or patronising in any way. While it was certainly much shorter than my usual read, it didnt feel like I was reading a childrens book.
Near the start of the book, I mistakenly read A kestrel hoovered which gave me a laugh, as I imagined a bird of prey tacking the housework. It was the only laugh I got out of the whole book. This is NOT a cheery read! It is bleak and harrowing, but that doesnt mean you should avoid the book.
It is a story that makes you think throughout. Much of it is set in the south-west near where I live too, so that made it feel even more real and close to home. The novel is very clever, in that it introduces many themes which can be interpreted at various levels, depending on the individual reader.
The novel throws up many interesting moral issues and covers many themes. The idea of religion and turning to God in times of crisis is mentioned many times. In fact they made this atheist somewhat uncomfortable, as it sounded in places almost preachy as though the reader was SUPPOSED to turn to God as the answer.
However, later on, I decided that this was simply to illustrate how our present society would react, as the second and third chapters have characters whose ideas have evolved and religion is no longer seen as the answer. However, the new world of the future could also be interpreted as the way Jehovahs Witnesses see things, aiming for the Promised Land of the Chosen Few.
The novel certainly seems to promote pacifism, as it is proven that the military way of thinking would not ensure survival. The new society bans weapons as evil unsurprisingly, considering the same technology destroyed the world of their predecessors.
The outsiders construct a world that can be seen as the communist ideal. It is equal, with each person working in the area of which they have some skill. People are pleased to give, without expecting anything in return and everything is shared. There is no money and no capitalism, no aggression and no weapons. Life is fair, people work when they can and are looked after, if they are old or ill.
This contrasts starkly with the old order of those in the bunker, where their totalitarian regime does not work as they had hoped it would. The hierarchy and militaristic system continues from the old world, as they see the outsiders as being inferior to them, feeling it is their right to steal from them and treat them as subservient.
Evolution is also covered here, with interesting and largely feasible ideas on how future humans would change to cope with the new climate. Although I found the idea of psychic powers slightly far-fetched and heading for the realms of science fiction, the evolutionary theories seemed realistic and believable.
The environmental themes examined here are also thought-provoking. The society evolving from the outsiders does not harm the planet, because it is illogical to bite the hand that feeds you. In some ways, their society compares with medieval society and in my case, it reminded me of what I have learnt of my family history in the early 1900s.
Farming is the main industry, out of necessity, and crops are harvested to feed the population. Animals are used both for milk, eggs and dairy produce then for their meat and skin.
Animals, in fact, play a large part in the novel. In the first part, the family dog Buster is left out of the shelter, because Veronica reasons that they wont be able to feed and water him. In fact, the dog food is fed to the children instead. While I could understand the reasoning behind this, I am fairly sure I would take our dog into the shelter with us and not leave her to suffer outside.
The idea of eating animals is not one I embrace for myself, having been vegetarian for eighteen years and bringing up my own children as vegetarians since birth. But it did make me wonder if I would eat meat in a future post-holocaust world as described in the book. While I would still prefer not to, it made sense in the story, because eating is for survival. Animals are treated well and used as foodstuffs eventually. They are not factory-farmed and pumped full of chemicals. Again, which society is right?
Another common theme is that of the family. Each chapter brings up the question of family relationships and how you treat your kin. After the bomb goes off, some things which are seen as wrong or undesirable now become accepted, because they are practical. The society inside the bunker encourages adults who are old enough to procreate to do so, so that couples marry for practical reasons and not for love.
The future society of the outsiders practices euthanasia, when someone is too ill to survive, whether young or old. It also allows a fourteen-year-old to marry a much older man, to ensure the continuation of the human race.
The idea of the family becomes much less defined, with the wider community becoming closer and working together. (This reminded me of Eyam in the novel I previously read Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks.) In these days where we barely know our neighbours, the contrast again makes us think. When was life better?
I have mixed feelings about the book on the whole, although mostly positive ones. The first chapter is worth reading as a stand alone short story and I found it bleak and harrowing, but the best part of the novel. However it does go downhill somewhat afterwards. I found the second part interesting, but not as gripping. The third part made me consider more issues, but was the weakest part of the actual story.
The three chapters are inter-linked in a clever way that doesnt feel too forced and the tale of societys struggle to survive is a fascinating one. It is a deep, intense and serious read, rather than a light, enjoyable one, but it does have many moments of optimism and hope for the future.
I especially related to the first chapter and how Veronica coped as a mum trying to look after and protect her children. As it went along though, I found myself more detached from the story and less able to relate, as the plot moved further and further away from todays society.
The book is one you want to keep reading, to know what happens, who survives and how. For a childrens book, it is also rare as it has no safety net any of the characters could die (and regularly do). This leads to an unsettling and nervous read.
While I found the whole novel slightly disappointing as it continued, it is definitely worth a read. It will make you think and consider many issues and themes which are often forgotten in our modern lives. It also makes you wonder about our world now is advancement being able to blow up the world or being able to heal a bad wound with a handful of leaves?
CHILDREN OF THE DUST by Louise Lawrence
Cover price £4.99
Currently available at www.amazon.co.uk
I read this book when I was fifteen, got it from the local library in the young adults section and really enjoyed it at the time- so much so that I've been looking out for a copy ever since! This highly informative account of the aftermath of nuclear meltdown appears at firstsight to be yet another dark and dismal tale of destruction, but persevere and you'll find it full of hope for the future of humanity. Stark in places, the descriptions constract beautifully with the uplifting message behind the story, that life has a will of its own. A highly recommended scifi tale, with its roots deeply ensconced in reality, suitable for teenagers and adults alike. The story begins in quite a grim fashion, with the build up to the apocalyptic melt-down. After the disaster, humanity is divided into two very different sets of people, those who managed to get to the bunkers before the bomb, and those who were trapped outside but managed to survive. The bunker survivors are in the same condition they were in when they first entered the bunker, where as those from the outside are beginning to evolve in new directions, as a result of the radiation exposure. The book explores the theme of prejudice, and the way in which it seems to be an intrinsic part of human society, whilst at the same time, by following the same family throughout gives you a perspective on what it is like to be on both sides of the fence. It also follows the darker themes of war and death, and asks the reader the uncomfortable question 'how far would you go to survive?'. As the story follows one family, you get quite attached to the characters, feeling sadness when the mother sacrifices herself to save her children, and then living through the tension of the aftermath with them. The story is well written, and the characters are consistent and portrayed with great emotional depth. The book has quite an upbeat ending, suggesting that there is hope for humanity yet, and that even th
ough we have a huge potential for destruction, we also have the ability to adapt and to heal the world and ourselves. I would say this is a great read for kids to show them what they have now and how easy it would be for them to lose it, and also hopefully, to make the next generation more aware that the stuff which happens on the news is not quite so remote as they would like to think it is. *this is a rewrite of my earliest opinion, I'm re-writing it out of embarrassment at how bad it originally is- I know this re-write ain't great cos I no longer have the book in front of me, but believe me its an improvement! Sorry about the quality! .
I know I'm bored when I start to read a book. Or not bored, perhaps I just have too much free time and nothing to fill it. But that could be the definition of bored. Anyway, before I ramble on, back to the book. To try to relieve my boredom I started to tidy out my cupboards, full of the last 13 years of school work. I started this about 3 weeks ago, but the first cupboard contained the complete trilogy of four of 'The Hitch Hiker Guide..' and related books. They took over from cupboard cleaning for a few days, and then as normally happens at the start of a loooong holiday I found plenty of things to do. Play tennis, watch tennis, eat, play computer games, split up with girlfriend, cop off with her best mate, get mad cos she copped off with my best mate, drink alcohol, watch TV and Dooyoo. Then today the boredom returned. A week of constant rain had made me run through all the things I had to do, and you can't play tennis in the rain. Sick of trying to find a job, I decided to head instead back to my room, and get back to work on the cupboards. There's obviously a trend here because I found two more books, and guess what; I'm gonna read them! I have one cupboard to go, and I'm sure that contains a book called 'The Physics of Star Trek' (hint to Dooyoo - add that category now!). It turned out this book belonged to school anyway. I've had it for 5 years, I guess it could almost be called stealing. Still, I'm gonna take it back before school closes for the summer, so I have until Friday at 3.40pm to get through it all. According to the cover it's a book for teenagers, and although I am 18 I do feel a little peeved that I'm still reading books I read when I was 13. But hey, I like it, which is something I can't say about a lot of books, and as usual when I like a book, I sit down, read it, and don't stop until I have finished. So now in the Dooyoo fashion, I'll tell you all what I
thought (the long intro was to hide the fact that despite having written tonnes of ops, this is my first proper book one!). First things first, the plot....... Set in the modern day and age, although lacking a definite date, 'Children of the Dust' tells the story of a nuclear holocaust, and ones families involvement in it. The book is split up in to 3 sections, telling first the story of the initial dropping of the nuclear bombs, and the days that immediately followed. The second section takes place over the years that follow the war, and the final part is concerned with the new order that comes from the chaos. The Harnden family were like any other, the father Bill married to his wife Veronica, with three children, Sarah (from Bill's first marriage), Catherine and William and a dog, Buster. But when the bombs were dropped Bill was at work, leaving Veronica and the three children to try to survive the holocaust. When Veronica cracks under the strain of trying to survive, Sarah, the eldest child, takes control. Only one of them survives, but goes on to be the building block of a new, better society. Bill Harnden was presumed dead, but a stroke of luck meant he got in to a nuclear bunker. He grew accustomed to life in the base, but sooner or later the remaining family members and their offspring were fated to meet once more. I will say no more (don't want to give away the whole plot!), but I will say that the rest of the book is good. It's not good because the story is particularly thrilling or exciting, it's good because it makes you question loads of things. What are we doing on the planet, what are we doing to the planet, religion, government and many other 'meaning of life' things. I never know how far to dig in to things. You could give me a piece of text with deep meaning and I may only see the obvious point and not the hidden message, and then you could give me something with no mean
ing and I would think it had meaning. I don't know what Louise Lawrence meant when she wrote this book. It was, after all, meant for teenagers, so perhaps the 'communism beats democracy' message I picked up on wasn't meant to be there. Or maybe it was, but when I was 13 I certainly didn't pick up on any of this. Whatever else it may to do, or be, it's not one of those books you read as a pick-me-up. Don't read it when you're depressed. It's not on a scale with Schindler?s List, and it could even be said to have a happy ending (if not for the current human race), but more than anything it leaves you thinking about the issues it raises. It's well written throughout, and never gets bogged down on one thing for too long. It's fast paced, moving at times quickly through periods of years, but it doesn't lack description either. One line may tell the tale of a decade, but the next could describe wonderfully the savaged, torn world that was left after the war (if wonderful is quite the right word to describe it). It's a fairly short book at the end of day, with its 168 pages not taking more than a few sessions to read. There are no chapters, apart from the three sections I mentioned before. Each is just about the right size for a decent reading session, and breaks the book up in to three nice palatable chunks. Don't be put off by the fact that I said this was written as a book for teenagers. I am still a teenager, but at 18 I think (hope) I'm past needing to read books for kids. I didn't fully comprehend this book the first time I read it at school, and although we analysed it at school I really think we too much down the technical, English Language side of things as opposed to discussing the issues it raises. It really is fine for everyone to read, and while it's not going to tax you like a Jane Austen novel, I think most people will find it an enjoyable, if brief read
. I liked it, and I don't normally like books - so that's probably about the best recommendation I can give it!! And now that I've read it all, I'm back to being bored. I've pi**ed off every girl I know, the local pubs are becoming more than a tad repetitive and I've started reading books. What has the world come to? Still, only 10 more weeks to Uni (he says with a sigh!).
It doesn't seem real when the sirens go off, and Sarah and the rest of the school are sent home. But the nuclear attack is real enough, and it means that Sarah and her family have to stay cooped up indoors for days on end. But they are determined to survive and build a new world.