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Homecoming: Ian McEwan, “Atonement”

It’s been a while since my last blog about Atonement.  A few weeks later, I am still reading it and there is no sign of finishing it in a couple days.  It is unusual that I spend more than a month on a single book. As I take my time to savor every word or sentence of it, it attracts me all the more and I don’t want to finish it too soon.  When I read the book I need to consult my dictionary frequently, but I never tire out because I am thrilled by these little and quiet discoveries about words.

The second part of Atonement portrays Robbie Turner’s life on the battlefield, especially during the Dunkirk Evacuation. As the operation is to send the British Army back to their homeland, this collective homecoming parallels Robbie’s yearning to reunite with Cecilia.  The way to the beach of Dunkirk is full of life-threatening obstacles: Stuka attacks, bombs, bees, a major that still wants to fight, lack of water, and the inflamed blister unattended.  What sustains Robbie is everything related to Cecilia: the moment in the library, their letter exchanges with special code of love, the brief meeting before the war, and Cecillia’s letter carrying a promise to wait.  Although he is not willing to forgive Briony, his hatred does not lead him to any harmful actions.  As Cecillia becomes his only reason to live, this strong longing leaves no room for revenge.

I really enjoy this part about the wartime.  Even if everyone lives under such an inhuman state, people still have compassion toward other people.  On the way to their destination, Robbie and his companions buried an unknown boy and rescued a soldier that was being bullied.  All these make the battlefield a place that still shines with certain positivity.

At the end of the second part, Robbie is sleepy and his consciousness is mingled with his memory of the past.  Before arriving home, he is already at home: he is thinking of Cecillia again.

There is a song from Brett Anderson that’s called Back to You. When I listen to its lyrics, it reminds me of Robbie Turner, who may be chanting something like this by heart.  And Norah Jones has a song named Waiting, and the lyrics resonates with Cecillia’s promise to Robbie: I’ll wait for you. Come back.

 

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