The terrible waste of war—especially its unrelenting effect on those who somehow survive—lies at the center of Sebastian Faulks’ 13th novel. Where My Heart Used to Beat is a return to historical fiction, the genre Faulks is best known for thanks to bestsellers like Birdsong.
London psychiatrist Robert Hendricks, now in his 60s, has tried to bury the memories of his service in World War II, but the losses he experienced still haunt him. Isolated and lonely, Robert is intrigued when he receives a letter from 93-year-old Alexander Pereira, a neurologist and World War I vet who claims to have served in the same infantry unit as the father Robert barely knew. Curious, Robert decides to accept Dr. Pereira’s offer to visit him at his home on a remote island off the southern coast of France.
Over the next several months, Robert makes a series of visits to Pereira, immersing himself in the revelations about his father and his own cloudy wartime memories. Pereira gradually gets Robert to open up about his war experiences—things he had not shared with anyone except the woman he loved and lost. Throughout the course of these introspective episodes, Robert and Pereira debate an array of philosophical issues, including whether 20th-century “ills” like the Holocaust and apartheid were the fault of individuals or governments. Robert gradually concludes that his postwar work as a psychiatrist has been “little more than an attempt at rebuttal.”
Faulks delves into the subjects of memory and loss with erudition and perception, engaging his readers in the task of grappling with their own memories of the past, and how those memories interject themselves into the present. His latest is a thoughtful and moving novel, beautifully told, about how humans can comprehend—or fail to comprehend—the atrocities that surround us every day.