- Nixon, Lois LaCivita
- Date of entry: Aug-11-2000
- Last revised: Aug-30-2006
Losing Julia is narrated by Patrick Delaney, age 81, a World War I veteran, who lives, somewhat independently, in Great Oaks, an assisted living facility. Still able to go into town to get new clothes, books, etc. and enchanted with the kindness and loveliness of Sarah and other female staff members, the well-educated and quick-witted protagonist offers a fresh perspective on "institutional" care.
Much of Patrick’s story, however, concerns Daniel, a war-time buddy, and other soldiers in his embattled unit prior to and during the hellacious Battle of Verdun. Several soldiers are carefully and memorably drawn by the stories they tell about life at home and their aspirations. Daniel stands out as Patrick’s closest friend in the trenches, a young man who is courageous, rational, fearful, and in love with Julia.
Like his peers, Patrick listens to Daniel’s lyrical recollection of the woman others can only imagine. Patrick realizes that he has fallen in love with Julia’s image. Most of the men, including Daniel, are killed brutally in one of the war’s most savage battles. When Patrick’s post-war efforts to find the elusive Julia fail, he marries, works as an accountant, and has two children. Like the war, Julia remains, however, a constant shadow throughout his life.
When a war monument is constructed ten years later on the site of the last atrocious battle, Patrick, his wife, his toddler son, and his sister-in-law journey to Paris. With his family happily detained in Paris, Patrick goes to Verdun alone for the monument’s unveiling ceremonies with many other veterans and grieving family members. It is here that Julia appears and the two become lovers during the time at Verdun and then for a short time in Paris.
The story, non-sequential in its presentation, weaves the various elements of aging, memory, war, love, and loss together for readers to untangle and follow.
While the love story is beautifully portrayed and, I think, realistic, it is greatly overshadowed by Jonathan Hull’s remarkable ability to inhabit the mind and body of an 81-year-old man who is determined to live his life to the fullest. He knows that the cancer in his body has spread, but he is unwilling to let go of his sharp memories and the feelings he has for those in the past and those caring for him now. He loves watching Sarah as she moves around the room he shares with room-mates Oscar and Martin, and others who have passed on.
Just as war buddies were delineated with care, Patrick’s descriptions of staff and other residents in the facility offer strong insights. Most readers will hope for Patrick’s powers of observation, his mental acuity, and the circumstances that allow for independence when they are 81. Hull’s vivid portrayal of war and brutal scenes of traumatic injury and death is a breathtaking parallel to Steven Spielberg’s film, Saving Private Ryan. For teaching purposes I recommend using this text with novels by May Sarton (As We Are Now, see annotation) and Kate Phillips (White Rabbit, see annotation).