Lovely War is a fictional novel by Julie Berry. It is a story of love, beauty and the effects of war. As the first world war spreads its impact throughout Europe, two unlikely couples meet — Hazel and James and Aubrey and Colette. Aphrodite tells the story with roles from Ares, Apollo, Hephaestus, and Hades. After Hephaestus catches her with Ares, she orchestrates a trial and tells two love stories to him. Ares, Apollo and Hades are witnesses in the retelling.
Colette and Hazel Find Each Other
Hazel and James are British and met at an event when James asked her to dance. Hazel was playing the piano and James was drawn both by her playing and the music. They decided to meet again and so started their romance. After only three meetings, James was prematurely sent for training. Despite the distance between them, they remained close through letters.
The Unstoppable Aubrey
Aubrey is part of a Black regiment in Saint Nazaire, France. The regiment is known for their band and performances, led by James Reese (Jim) Europe. Aubrey was a talented pianist who could freeplay, changing any composition into jazz. When Colette met him, she was drawn by his incredible skill and talent. He, on the other hand, was enthralled by her singing and her beauty.
Colette and Aubrey were never supposed to meet according to the rules of the army and the YMCA. However, walking past one of the YMCA huts, Aubrey heard the sound of piano playing. There was no piano available to him otherwise and he could not resist the call. There, he met Hazel and Colette. He would sneak away from camp to meet up with them at night when Mrs. Davies was asleep.
Colette and Aubrey
Gradually, Colette and Aubrey grew closer. She started to trust him, and even told him about her family. The Nazis had killed all of them in the community of Dinant in Belgium. She hid from them and then escaped to Paris.
Hazel and James Fall in Love
Hazel soon followed James out of Britain and into France. This made it possible for them to arrange a meeting in Paris. After a day and a half together, James had to go back to war. During their time together, they explored Paris and shared their first kiss. They stayed at Colette’s aunt.
Not wanting to be apart from Colette, Aubrey had decided not to go on tour with the military band. However, after his friend, Joey, was killed, he was given no choice by his commander but to go on the tour, for his own safety.
On a previous occasion, a Southern soldier had accosted Aubrey on his way back to his camp from visiting Colette and Hazel. He warned him away from white women. Aubrey took his gun from him and thought that there would be no problems. However, the animosities continued between the black and white regiments. One night, when Aubrey sneaked back into bed, Joey woke up, warning him about sneaking around. Then Joey went to the outhouse. Later, Aubrey went outside, following a sound, and found Aubrey battered and murdered in the outhouse. He called Europe who secretly arranged to have Joey buried. He didn’t want to escalate the back and forth retaliations that were already happening between the Black and White regiments.
Hurt and Betrayal
When Colette returned from Paris, Aubrey was gone. He didn’t leave a note and no one knew where to find him. With his continued silence, Colette started to doubt his feelings for her. When she eventually wrote to him, he did not respond for months.
When Aubrey eventually decided to write to Colette, he sent her a song he’d written here. However, she never got the letter.
Kicked Out of the YMCA
Aubrey and Colette get kicked out of the YMCA Volunteers program by Mrs. Davies. She took issue with their inappropriate behavior of entertaining coloured men (who told her) and was about to fire them when they resigned. She did not provide them with references.
Mrs. Davies had conviction in her actions. When she received a letter from James to Hazel, instead of forwarding it, she replied to him to let him know that Hazel had been kicked out of the program and why. When she received Aubrey’s letter to Colette, she sent it to a US staff sergeant as a sign of the inappropriate correspondence and wanton behavior of negro soldeiers towards white female volunteers. However, the staff sergeant saw no impropriety since all Aubrey had sent were lyrics to a song. She also wrote to Hazel’s parents and to James.
James’ letters did not reach Hazel due to Mrs. Davies’ interference and Hazel’s letters did not reach Hazel due to the chaos of the war.
James watched one of his mates, Mason, die in the war and felt that it should have been him instead. He knew that Mason had a family waiting for him. After this, James was in a state of shell shock and was placed in a psychiatric ward.
In Paris, Aubrey and Hazel had trouble finding opportunities to volunteer without references. The only thing they could find was to work at a place for German prisoners of war. They worked there until one of the inmates sexually harassed Hazel.
Sharpshooter in the Army
James showed prowess as a sharpshooter and was moved to the front in the war. During an attack by the Germans, he watched his friend Mason get eviscerated by a shell. In a state of shellshock, he had to be rescued by his colleagues. He found himself in a mental hospital before being released home to recover.
Learning about the attack by the Germans, Hazel was worried about James. When her mother sent her a news clipping that he was receiving a Distinguished Service Medal, she went to Chelmsford to find him. When she showed up at his family home, he refused to see her. Through Aphrodite’s interference, Hazel was offered a job teaching music and decided to stay in the town.
When James (inevitably) ran into Hazel in town, he spoke to her before hurrying away. Hazel was distraught, and despite his sister’s attempt to help the situation, she finally gave up.
As Hazel was about to leave town, she noticed James getting on a train. She hurriedly got a ticket for the same train and waited for the train to take off before going to sit in his compartment. James initially tried to turn Hazel away but eventually gave up. When the train arrived at his destination, he invited her with him.
James’ destination was the home of Mason’s widow, Adelaide. They met her and her young child. They hadn’t known she was expecting another child. Hazel played with the child while James and the widow talked about Mason. James was able to tell her that Mason died without pain, something she found to be of some solace. James also insisted that she accept the twenty pounds he got as a prize with his Distinguished Service Medal.
After visiting the widow, James and Hazel went to the beach. There, Hazel played in the water, and James eventually joined her there. This was their moment of reconnection. James felt a push from Mason to be with Hazel and let her help him.
James had no desire to return to the war and eventually received a notice to show up for retraining.
How was Aubrey in the Army
Aubrey made a great friend in the army, his French trainer, Émile. Émile taught Aubrey the things he needed to know to be at war and enjoyed Aubrey’s piano-playing.
Colette read a news story that spoke of Black Americans in the war and wondered if Aubrey might still be alive. She wrote a letter to the last known location of the regiment and waited for a reply.
One day, Aubrey showed up at the door of Colette’s aunt. After not knowing if he was dead or alive for so long, Colette was ecstatic to see him. They spoke of a future in New York.
War Leaves Scars
Over the course of a weekend, James and Aubrey would both have time to meet their girls. First, Hazel and Colette would travel for Hazel to visit James and then they would travel for Colette to meet with Aubrey.
As James waited for Hazel, a shell struck the train station. Hazel was injured after throwing her body on top of Colette’s; Colette was unscathed.
It was through Aphrodite’s intercession with Hades that Hazel got to return to life. The price was her beauty. Despite a full recovery, the right side of her face was “gashed by livid red lines”.
Hazel struggled to believe that James could still love her as much as he did before her accident. She tried to chase him away but he wouldn’t go. Instead, he asked her to marry him.
The End of the War
After the war ended, James and Hazel got married at Christmas. Colette and Aubrey attended. After the wedding, Hazel and James moved to London where James and built their family.
Aubrey moved back to New York and introduced Colette to his family. They performed together, only accepting shows that would allow that. Then one Saturday, they got married.
The Ending of Lovely War
Lovely War ends back with the gods. The children of the two couples are old enough to be drafted into the new war. Ares promises to keep an eye out for them and Hades to bring them safely home if the Fates allow.
Hephaestus finally gets the point of the story and asks Aphrodite to take a chance on him. She accepts. Then she reveals that she planned the whole evening, the trial. She wanted to let him know her and for her to love him. By showing him what love loves like, she hoped he would get the hint. Her tactic worked. It ends (or begins) with a kiss.