"The past is a foreign country": with these words Leo Colston, the narrator, opens his account of what happened in the course of nineteen days in July 1900, when he was a naive twelve-year-old child full of expectations for the future, of hopes and curiosity for life.
And while we read Leo's painful recollection of those inexorable events till their dramatic climax that has haunted him ever since, we come to share his view that the past is indeed irretrievable, inexplicable, just as it is unchangeable and definitive. Leo's lucid and melancholy analysis of the characters' psychological dynamics, of the issue of responsibility (the main question in the book: 'whose fault was it?' remains unanswered, as it should be) only serves to point out the pointlessness of this quest for meaning.
More than anything else, this beautifully written book strikes the reader with the accuracy and the vividness of its characterisation, as well as with its sharp contrasts, made even sharper by their ambiguity. This book manages to recreate the feelings and thoughts and curiosities of a twelve-year-old child still ignorant of the "facts of life" with striking accuracy, while portraying with almost painful sharpness the violence of unconditional adult love. The brutality of this contrast is, to me, the real shock, the real tragedy caused by the events of those nineteen days: the cruelty with which the innocence of childhood is shattered by a brutal adult world that the narrator, as a result of this shock, decides never to join.
"the past is a different country. They do things differently there..."
One of the best incipits ever and a delightfully bitter story of a small boy losing his faith in people.