Dunedin Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute

Book: Lessons (November 2022)

By Ian McEwan

November 27, 2022

When the world is still counting the cost of the Second World War and the Iron Curtain has descended, young Roland Baines’s life is turned upside down, 2,000 miles from his mother’s protective love, stranded at an unusual boarding school, his vulnerability attracts his piano teacher, Miriam Cornell, leaving scars as well as a memory of love that will never fade.

Twenty-five years later Roland’s wife mysteriously vanishes, leaving him alone with their baby son.  He is forced to confront the reality of his rootless existence.  As the radiation from the Chernobyl disaster spreads across Europe he begins a search for answers that looks deep into his family history and will last for the rest of his life.

From the Suez and Cuban Missile crisis and the fall of the Berlin Wall to the Covid pandemic and climate change, Roland sometimes rides with the tide of history but more often struggles against it.  Haunted by lost opportunities, he seeks solace through every possible means – literature, travel, friendship, drugs, sex and politics.  A profound love is cut tragically short.  Then, in his final years, he finds love again in another form.  His journey raises important questions.  Can we take full charge of the course of our lives without damage to others?  How do global events beyond our control shape our lives and our memories?  And what can we learn from the traumas of the past?

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