Nine-year-old Lawrence is the man in his family. He carefully watches over his willful little sister, Jemima, and his mother, Hannah. When Hannah becomes convinced that their estranged father is stalking them, the family flees London and heads for Rome, where Hannah lived happily as a young woman. For Lawrence, fascinated by stories of popes and emperors, Rome is an adventure. Though they are short of money, and move from home to home, staying with his mother’s old friends, little by little their new life seems to be taking shape. But the trouble that brought them to Italy will not quite leave them in peace.
Narrated in Lawrence’s perfectly rendered voice, When We Were Romans powerfully evokes the emotions and confusions of childhood—the triumphs, the jealousies, the fears, and the love. Even as everything he understands is turned upside down, Lawrence remains determined to keep his family together, viewing the world from a perspective that is at once endearingly innocent and preternaturally wise.
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MATTHEW KNEALE was born in London in 1960, the son of two writers. He is author of numerous prizewinning novels, including the bestselling English Passengers, which won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and was short-listed for the Booker Prize. He lives with his wife and two children in Rome.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
One day scientists found something strange out in space. This thing was pulling millions of galaxies towards it, one of them is the Milky Way which is ours, but the scientists couldn’t see the thing because it was hidden behind lots of dust. They thought “this thing must be huge to pull all these galaxies towards it, and we are getting pulled towards it really fast, it is at millions of miles per hour, but it could be anything, nobody knows, it is a mystery.” They thought “this is strange, this is scary” and then they said “I know, let’s call the thing the Great Attractor.”
The great Attractor is pulling us right now. I think it is probably a huge black hole, because black holes eat everything, they even eat light so you can’t ever see them, they look just like a piece of really dark night. One day I bet there will be a big disaster, we will go nearer and nearer and then suddenly we will get pulled right in. It will be like a big hand gets us so we will vanish, because nothing can get out of a black hole you see, we will be stuck there for ever. It is strange to think that every day, every minute we are all being pulled towards the Great Attractor but hardly anybody knows. People go about their ordinary every day lives, they have toast for breakfast and go to school, they watch their favorite programs on the telly and they never even guess.
We were coming back from the supermarket, we went to a further away one where we never went before so it would be all right, and it was an adventure mum said, we must be really quick, we must be like birds diving down and getting some food and flying away with it in their mouths. It was fun, actually, we got our cart and we almost ran, we just grabbed all the tins and packets and milk and tinfoil etc etc. Then Jemima saw some sweets in a little purple tin and she said “oh I want them, I need them, please mum.” Mum said “don’t be silly now, Lamikin” which is what she calls Jemima sometimes “anyway those aren’t real sweets their cough sweets, their bad for you.” But Jemima didn’t listen, she never does, and she started crying like a big crybaby, she said “but I need them, I need that purple tin.”
She was still saying it when we were coming back in the car and suddenly we were almost home. We went past Mrs Potters house and the droopy trees which look funny like hair and I thought “uhoh” I thought “now there will be trouble” but I didn’t say anything of course, because we couldn’t ever say anything in front of Jemima, because she was too young to understand. But then there was a surprise, because it was fine after all. Jemima was terrible just like I expected, when mum stopped the car she said “I’m staying here, I want to go back to the supermarket” but mum was ready, she said “if you come with me then I’ll give you a nice treat” and it worked. Jemima went quiet and said “all right.”
Then we were so fast. Mum got Jemima out of her car seat and we all got all the plastic bags out of the trunk, I carried lots, even though they were really heavy, we went to the door, we were almost running, and Mum had her key all ready. That was when I looked round, I didn’t really want to but I couldn’t help it, I just had to. I looked at the fence and the bushes. But it was all all right, there wasn’t anybody at all. Then we were inside, mum shut the door, she locked it, and I thought “hurrah hurrah” I thought “look at all this food, this will last ages.” We put it away in the fridge and the cupboards, and after that I went up to see Hermann. I cleaned his bowls and gave him some new nuts and water.
Jemima followed like always so I let her watch, I said “no you can’t hold him.” Then it was time for robot wars, which is one of my favorite programs, there was a robot called the obliterator and another called the stamper which had a big sort of foot. So we sat on the sofa and I thought “I bet everything will be all right now” I thought “I bet dad will go away back to Scotland and then I can go back to school again, because I’m all better from my flu now” I thought “I wonder if Tania Hodgsons cat had its kittens yet, I wonder if they were all tabbies like their mum?” Jemima was being annoying like usual. She said “I don’t want to watch robot wars, I want to watch the other side.” I said “there isn’t anything on the other side Jemima you big silly, its just the news” but it didn’t work, she said “I want the clicker, I never get the clicker, its my turn.” Jemima is terrible with the clicker, she just does it again and again really fast so you can’t watch anything, so I said “you can’t Jemima, you’ll break it like you broke your new pink sunglasses.”
That was when mum came in. She said “here’s your treat lesonfon” which is what she calls us sometimes, it is “children” in French, she told us once. It was our supper, usually we can’t eat it when we watch telly but she said “just this once” and it was hot dogs and oven chips which was a treat too, because mum says we can’t have oven chips because their too expensive, their a real waste of money. Usually I would just be pleased by those treats, I would think “oh yes, how delicious” but this time I wasn’t actually, which was because I noticed mums face. You see, all that smiling she got from getting the food from the supermarket was just gone away again, it was like it all went down the plug hole, she tried to smile when she said “heres your treat, lesonfon” but it didn’t work, I saw it, she just looked all worried and desperate.
I looked at Jemima but she hadn’t noticed, she was too busy watching robot wars and trying to eat her chips too quickly, she said “ow too hot” she is such a greedy guts. I thought “what will I do, I must help mum” I thought “but I really want these chips, if I don’t stay and eat them then Jemima will steal them secritly, perhaps I should just stay and eat them really fast” but then I thought “no no, I must help mum now.” Suddenly I had an idea. I said “Jemima I am going to the loo, you can have the clicker just until I get back” and she was really pleased of course, she said “oh yes” and grabed it right out of my hand. I said “I’ve counted all my chips really carefully, Jemima, if you eat even just one tiny one then I’ll notice and I’ll put all your favorite dolls on a high shelf so you’ll never get them again.”
Mum was sitting in the kitchen. She jumped up a bit when she saw me, she said “Lawrence.” I said “whats wrong mum?” and she went really quiet, she said “what dyou mean?” so I said “somethings gone wrong, I can see it in your face.” She closed her eyes a bit, she said “oh Lawrence, I don’t want to upsit you with all of this” and she sort of squinted her eyes. I thought “she will tell me now” so I said “all of what mum?” and she did a little moan, she said “I don’t know what to do, its so awful, we just can’t go on like this.”
I really hated it when poor mum went sad like that. I thought “what can I do to help her?” but I couldn’t think of anything, I tried and tried, I thought “this is bad” until suddenly I had an idea. So I said “why don’t we go away for a bit, just until he’s gone away, we could go to Uncle Harry’s or somewhere.” Uncle Harry lives in London, he has a big house. We went there for Christmas but it was just for lunch, we didn’t stay because we are too noisy so aunt Clarissa gets a head ache, and mum gets worried Jemima will break Uncle Harries old plates which are stuck on the walls like pictures, they cost lots of money. But mum shook her head, she said “they’re away, they’ve gone skiying.” I thought “oh dam” I thought “there must be somewhere we can go” but it was hard actually, because mum doesn’t know many people, usually its just us in the cottage. I thought “I’m not going to give up now when everythings going so well, when we got all that food.” So I said “what about Grandma and Grandpa in Kew.”
Mum shook her head again, she was blinking, she said “he’d just follow us . . .” But then she stopped, she frowned like she was thinking really hard, and she said “unless . . .” This was good, at least she wasn’t just saying “no, nothing will work” so I said “unless what?” And then she said it, she said “unless we went somewhere really far away. Somewhere he’d never be able to find us. Somewhere like Rome.” Now she sort of squinted like this was better and better and she said “actually we could you know. I’ve got our passports from that time we almost went to France.”
This was different, this was a big surprise. Mum sometimes talked about Rome where she lived years ago before I was born, and how we must all go one day to see the fountains which were so beautifull and eat the food which was so delicious, but I never thought it would happen, especially suddenly like this. Another surprise was that mum didn’t look so worreid anymore, in fact she even did a little tiny smile, that was good. I didn’t want to stop mums new smile of course, I really wanted it to stay, but I just didn’t know, I couldn’t help it. So I said “but what about school?” because I had tests at the end of term, you see, and I had my science project too, I was doing SPACE for M...
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Book Description Nan A. Talese. PAPERBACK. Book Condition: New. 0385526253. Bookseller Inventory # Z0385526253ZN
Book Description Nan A. Talese 2008-07-22, 2008. Paperback. Book Condition: New. 1St Edition. 0385526253. Bookseller Inventory # Z0385526253ZN
Book Description Nan A. Talese. PAPERBACK. Book Condition: New. 0385526253. Bookseller Inventory # Z0385526253ZN
Book Description Nan A. Talese, 2008. Book Condition: New. Brand New, Unread Copy in Perfect Condition. A+ Customer Service! Summary: "This narrative is heartbreakingly moving. Full of restraint and artistic integrity, this is a poignant, haunting and lovely novel." The Guardian "[Lawrence] is the literary first cousin of Roddy Doyle's Paddy Clarke. The heartbreak and triumph ofWhen We Were Romansis that little Lawrence is the real thing." Literary Review "Matthew Kneale's lovely novel. is narrated by Lawrence with insight, humour and sweetly erratic spelling: it halts and splutters in rhythm with the children's whims and tantrums. the author has got inside a young, over-burdened mind with convincing accuracy." Financial Times "Kneale creates an extraordinary tension. the combination of insight and innocence Kneale gives Lawrence is powerfully affecting." Sunday Times "Kneale has succeeded. Lawrence has real presence and his situation is entirely believable." Daily Telegraph "A skilful, humorous and touching novel about the way a child interprets the world." Daily Mail "The strength of Kneale's novel is not suspense but Lawrence's delicate sensibility. Lawrence's touchingly ingenuous language, his tetchy irritation with his baby sister and his beleaguered optimism make him a genuinely affecting protagonist." Independent "Substantial and engaging.With consummate subtlety and sympathy, Kneale finds metaphorical hinges between the family's unfolding story and Lawrence's two intellectual interests Roman emperors and astronomy." The Times "A consistently absorbing read, the work of a craftsman." Sunday Telegraph "Laurence's skilful maneuvering in a tricksy adult world is artfully depicted. His guileless voice only exacerbates the sense of dread, while its deceptive simplicity hides a chilling exploration of mental illness and maternal neglect." New Statesman "The compelling and disturbing portrayal of a child's attempt to make sense of his mother's mental illness." Daily Express. Bookseller Inventory # ABE_book_new_0385526253
Book Description Nan A. Talese, 2008. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. First Edition. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0385526253
Book Description Nan a Talese, New York, New York, U.S.A., 2008. Hard Cover. Book Condition: New. Dust Jacket Condition: New. First Edition, First Printing. 8vo - over 7¾" - 9¾" tall. This is a new hardcover first edition, first printing copy in a new mylar protected DJ, blueblack spine. Bookseller Inventory # 040303
Book Description Book Condition: Brand New. Book Condition: Brand New. Bookseller Inventory # 97803855262581.0
Book Description Nan A. Talese, 2008. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # P110385526253