Matthew Kneale has written a novel from the perspective of his main character, nine-year-old Lawrence. In When We Were Romans, Lawrence reveals the love, the emotion, as well as the excitement and fears of a loving family, when something has gone terribly wrong.
Lawrence movingly narrates his own story. He is an unusually bright boy who, among other interests, loves stories of popes, emperors and the eccentricities that complicates their lives. He shows an amazing understanding of the universe, stars, moons and galaxies. You will be surprised by his unusual spelling as he relates his experiences.
Lawrence has a three-year-old sister, Jemina who is a constant problem. She is spoiled, aggressive, demanding and almost impossible to handle. His mother, Hanna, and their father have recently divorced and the mother's attitude toward the father is causing major problems.
Hanna grows progressively paranoid concerning her ex-husband. She takes the children and flees to Rome, Italy, believing that their father is trying to kill them. Once there, they stay with old friends of Hanna's where they are forced to move from house to house. Lawrence narrates their adventure with much color. He describes the sights, sounds and smells of Rome so that we feel as though we are there, walking along ancient street paths. He describes narrow stone streets that are arranged in circles, the beautiful architecture of old buildings, fountains and ancient ruins.
Lawrence takes us into his world and by doing so, we can better understand his confusion as he struggle with a life that would be difficult for an adult. Please read this book if you are involved with or ever expect to be involved with children. The story is a real eye opener with a surprise ending.