It has been a long time since I’ve cried while reading a book. However, it happened recently when I finished The Light Between Oceans (2012) by M. L. Stedman. I did not just leak a few tears. I sobbed.
I found out about the book from a movie trailer. The book is a movie now, and it looks like a good movie. I decided to read the book first. I’m so glad I did. It is usually my policy to do so.
The book is about Tom and Isabel Sherbourne who care for a lighthouse on Janus island near Partageuse, Australia. The two are young newlyweds, and the first part of the book goes back in time to apprise readers of their romance. Tom is a veteran of WWI and he’s the strong, silent type. Izzy is fun loving, daring, and adventurous. They marry and live at the lighthouse, sometimes without visiting the mainland for years at a time.
During those years, Izzy suffers several terrible miscarriages and a stillbirth. Three times she has been pregnant and three times they have lost the baby. The final pregnancy is lost when she is nearly 7 months pregnant, and Tom describes his experience with cleaning up the baby first, as Isabel demanded, before she allows him to help her or clean up the large amounts of blood in their kitchen. She birthed these lost babies alone, as the island is isolated and far from help. All she ever wanted was a large family, and the pain encompasses her entire life.
Well, one day the couple hear a baby crying on the island. They investigate to find a boat that has washed up on shore. In it is a crying baby and a dead man, who seems to have suffered a heart attack. Izzy immediately cares for the little baby, and because the child has arrived so quickly after her last baby died, she is able to nurse her. She becomes immediately attached.
Tom wishes to report the incident, as his log book of the lighthouse must be kept in exact order. However, Izzy asks him to wait. A few days turn into weeks, and pretty soon, the couple is caught in a web of lies. Isabel decides that the mother of the baby must be dead and she claims the baby, whom she names Lucy, as her own.
Over the years, Tom is bothered by the deception of their actions. He knows he should have reported it. He knows that Lucy is not theirs, and that if they had gone through proper channels, they could have possibly adopted her.
They soon find out about a woman back in Partageuse, where Isabel’s parents live, whose husband and baby got into a boat and never returned. They realize that they have her baby, but Isabel does not want to give up motherhood.
By the time Lucy is about four years old, the secret is uncovered. The novel then traces the consequences of the deception through the lives of the biological mother (Hannah), Lucy (who is returned to her biological mother), and the Sherbournes. It is a heartbreaking account of how a situation like this would probably play out in real life.
I was most touched by the actions of Hannah in relation to what she remembered about her deceased husband. He was an Austrian who was persecuted for being a “Hun” right after WWI. The reason he had fled into the boat with their baby was to protect himself and her from a mob of angry citizens. He was constantly ridiculed, ignored, and mistreated because of his Austrian heritage, although he was not technically German. People held strong prejudices.
Yet Hannah remembered his happiness and his ability to keep going. He told her that he was happy because “I can forgive and forget” (p. 323). She reminded him that such actions are not that easy.
I agree. Forgiving and forgetting seem like the hardest things to do. I’m not good at it. I want to be.
Her husband Frank replied, “Oh, but my treasure, it is so much less exhausting. You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day. You have to keep remembering all the bad things . . . [W]e always have a choice. All of us” (p. 323).
We always have a choice.
The lessons of forgiving in this book extend beyond Hannah and remind us of the forgiveness needed between husbands and wives, parents and children, neighbors and friends. The way the narrative wove this truth of human life into its story reminded me of on of my all-time favorite novels: Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner.
I plan to see the movie version of this book soon. I’m pretty sure I will sob through it as well.