Review: Juliana by Vanda

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Juliana is set in New York in the early years of World War II. Alice (Al Huffman) arrives in the city fresh from the provinces and keen to make her name and fortune on Broadway. Accompanying her are her childhood friends, all of them bright-eyed, naive and full of hope.

The war and city life conspire to strip them of their illusions and to disrupt their lives in ways they could never have imagined. For Al, this entails a journey into self-awareness as she struggles to come to terms with the attraction which she feels for beautiful night club singer Juliana.

This is a novel which throws into relief the extent to which social attitudes have changed in relation to LGBT identities and rights. Al and Juliana live within a society which views same sex relations as a sickness, and in which lesbians and gay men are viewed as ‘sexual psychopaths.’ The degree of prejudice is such that Al has internalised it herself, and refuses to accept that she’s ‘one of them.’ As that position becomes untenable, the reader follows her on an emotional and psychological journey which leads inexorably into Juliana’s arms.

This is a finely written novel, and the characters emerge as complex, nuanced and believably flawed individuals. The portrayal of war time New York is rich but not overburdened in historical detail. My only criticism would be that the story ends somewhat abruptly, and while I think I understand the author’s reasons for this, a little more of a sense of closure would have been welcome. However, I was left in absolutely no doubt that I wanted to read more about Al and Juliana, and to discover whether their relationship flourishes or founders in the next part of the series, Olympus  Nights on the Square.

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