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OPEN - Pierre’s Journey after War takes a deep, inward look into the soul of a man whose wife and children are indiscriminately killed in the ceaseless aerial bombing of France during the Second World War. His remorse as a survivor spikes a desire for revenge equal to his heartache.
It is between the force fields of these two powerful emotions that author Margareth Stewart frames her story about the lasting psychological effects of war on innocent civilians. She builds a melodrama of believable proportion based on Pierre’s suffering from severe, personal tragedy, and magnifies its significance by contrasting his perpetual mourning with a modern couple’s inability to simply watch over each other in a more dependable world.
The cosmopolitan couple’s attempt to engage in a healthy vision of an opportune lifestyle during a short vacation offers striking contrast to Pierre’s long endurance of unanswerable images of a family lost in a war consigned to distant history. Burdened by the inability to protect his loved ones, he is driven to social rootlessness. Unable to live in the present or with his terrible past, he punishes himself through self-exile, surrendering to forces beyond control, determined to escape his nightmares by wandering from place to place like a runaway child. A true vagabond, he takes shelter and survives on goodwill shared with others, most of whom suffer comparable, daunting injustices.
Notably, the author avoids positioning Pierre as an aimless derelict. Instead, she produces a complex character, an educated and empathetic man, and enchants us with countless and insightful characterizations of Pierre’s involvement in the unforeseen, as in this description of a compassionate encounter with a warmhearted woman: “They were similar, in that they shared the capacity to grasp the whole situation in an instant. How else could he have known her situation? She had no other explanation for what had happened. It was the first time someone really saw her without even touching her, without even looking at her for long. She’d felt ashamed in his presence -- naked.”
Glimpses are caught of Pierre’s possible recovery yet the author holds back to demonstrate the lifetime needed to heal from severe, emotional trauma. Stewart, who has a doctoral degree in social psychology, utilizes Pierre to depict the enduring psychological journeys faced in the resolution of troubling obsessions. Had he been a modern soldier, Pierre might have been diagnosed with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD), a syndrome, oddly enough, disassociated with civilians who survive the same torment of battle. In Stewart’s work of imagination, Pierre’s affliction originates in a different era, when trauma was often considered a sign of cowardice among soldiers, and was not the subject of civilians.
Margareth Stewart thus prescribes her therapy for Pierre’s shell shock and anguish by asking him to apply acts of kindness and charity -- remedial methods for building a subliminal bridge to help him cross the emotional Rubicon of misery.
In this way, Open – Pierre’s Journey after the War, embodies the dimensions of a fable or a moral allegory. The novel illustrates the impact of stress from sweeping, man-made, uncontrollable events that ultimately force us to solve our irrational digressions, whether societal or personal.