Cover image for Losing Julia
Losing Julia
Hull, Jonathan.
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Publication Information:
New York : Delacorte Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
vi, 358 pages ; 25 cm
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Jonathan Hull's debut novel is an epic story of love found and lost, of life in all its joy and tragedy, that takes readers as far as a French battlefield during World War I and as near as a California nursing home. Spanning the twentieth century in time, and forever in heartfelt emotion, Losing Julia is storytelling prowess at its most sublime.

Through the eyes of Patrick Delaney, both bright as a nineteen-year-old American soldier off to fight the Great War and dim as an eighty-one-year-old man, Jonathan Hull shows readers one man's world of discovery, of love, and ultimately, of regret.

Julia was the beautiful lover of Patrick's best friend, Daniel. Patrick knew he was meant to be with her the moment he first saw her at a memorial service in eastern France, on the tenth anniversary of the battle in which Daniel died. Though married, Patrick falls desperately in love with Julia during the brief but unforgettable time they spend together exploring the still-battle-scarred countryside and grappling to make sense of what took place there. Struggling to reconcile their love with the havoc of war and life's obligations, Julia and Patrick cling to each other until one faltered step, when Patrick loses Julia, perhaps never to find her again.

From the vicious savagery of trench warfare to the sometimes comic and often tragic indignities of life in a nursing home, readers will make an unforgettable journey through Patrick Delaney's memories as he questions whether the joy he shared with Julia can outweigh the losses of a lifetime.

Julia was the beautiful wife of Patrick's best friend, Daniel. Patrick knew he was meant to be with her the moment he first saw her at a memorial service at Verdun, France, on the tenth anniversary of the battle that made her a widow. Though married, Patrick falls desperately in love with Julia during the brief but unforgettable time they spend together exploring the still battle-scarred countryside and grappling to make sense of what took place there. Struggling to reconcile their love with the havoc of war and life's obligations, Julia and Patrick cling to each other until one faltered step when Patrick loses Julia, perhaps never to find her again. -->

Author Notes

Jonathan Hull spent ten years working at Time magazine in various positions, including Jerusalem bureau chief and as a national correspondent, winning several prestigious awards along the way. Now writing fiction full-time, he lives in Marin County, California, with his wife and two children.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

For lovers of sweeping, nostalgic, romantic stories, Hull has produced a fine example in this first novel. At 81, Patrick Delaney looks back on his life. His health is poor, but his imagination and libido are that of a much younger man. And his memories are still vivid and priceless. Patrick's story revolves around three time periods: his experiences during World War I, the 10 years after the war, and the present. His story is interspersed and intertwined with quotations from literature, from history, and from memory. Julia is the love of his wartime friend Daniel, who loves her so deeply and expressively that Patrick grows to love this woman he has never met. When Daniel is killed in battle, Julia's last name and address are lost with his body, but her image remains real and strong with Patrick. Ten years later, married and with a child, he returns to France for the dedication of a war memorial, meets Julia, and finds he loves the flesh-and-blood woman even more than his imaginings. Choices and responsibilities separate them, but Patrick never loses the memory of their love. As an old man, he dreams and remembers. And although he has been alone for more than 40 years, he has never grown bitter. And what of Julia? The story comes full circle in the end, just as all romantic novels should, and Patrick finds her in the only way possible. Hull's writing is engaging and particularly effective in describing the horrors of trench warfare. --Danise Hoover

Publisher's Weekly Review

In a nursing home in California, WWI vet Patrick Delaney is fighting new battles: against old age (he's 81), stomach cancer and the knowledge of his encroaching death. This earnest, elegant first novel takes the form of Patrick's diary, in which he details the humbling infirmities of an aging body and looks back at the defining moments of his life--the war itself, when he lost his best friend, Daniel, and the brief but intense love affair he had 10 years later with Daniel's grieving lover, Julia. The diary layers these two stories with scenes from the nursing home in short alternating sections. Like the dots in a pointillist painting, they merge into the larger work, a story of love and death. "Our lives--all our lives--are a struggle between love and loss," Julia tells Patrick in Paris, where their affair unfolds over one week in 1928. Hull is ultimately better at depicting war than--Patrick's memories of Julia are tinged with romantic cliche: her eyes are like "precious stone" and her smile suggests a "combination of strength and vulnerability." But his descriptions of the war are frightening and physical, with dirt dislodged by artillery shells filling Patrick's mouth and flares illuminating severed body parts in the trenches. Hull's research is assiduous; he seamlessly incorporates period detail, referencing the toiletries the enlistees received in their trench kits and how the weather affected the roads at the Battle of Verdun. Equally honest and effective are the unsparing descriptions of the loneliness, physical decrepitude and indignities of old age. Patrick is a winning narrator, charming and honest and direct, and the reader will root for him right through the book's Hollywood ending, where he makes one last stand against death, his final enemy. Major ad/promo; author tour. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The nightmare of World War I, a brief interlude in Paris, losing friends and family, winding up in a nursing home with a failing body and a million memories: Patrick Delaney is the central character in this story of a man's life told in three time periods. The narrative moves smoothly from the end of Delaney's life back through his war experience in the trenches in France forward through a short time in Paris in the late 1920s where he meets the beautiful girlfriend of his dead army buddy, Daniel. Julia and Patrick find love, which becomes more intense and romantic by the complications of Patrick's wife and child. The cycles of war, love, loss, and death in a lifetime are nothing new. Yet the tale is so beautifully woven and the nostalgia so deep and true that the listener is captivated. Actor Ralph Waite's voice is perfectÄgravelly and poignant and full of expression as Patrick in three stages of life. Public libraries will want this.ÄBarbara Valle, El Paso P.L., TX (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



I was glad that it rained. Not just a drizzle but big furious drops that lashed against us and danced at our feet. Our discomfort seemed somehow appropriate, all of us standing there with tears and rain washing down our taut faces, overcome by so many names. The clouds were just right too, dark and solemn as they marched slowly past, heavy with grief. But what got me most were the birds, dozens of them in every tree, loud and insistent. I remember listening and thinking how familiar they sounded, so that I couldn't close my eyes for more than a moment without tumbling back. It was my first trip back to France. I had taken a train from Paris to Reims, where I rented a car and drove five hours, getting lost twice. Charlotte stayed in Paris with our son Sean, who was three then, and her sister Margaret, who had traveled with us from the States. I knew Charlotte wouldn't join me for the service; she had no tolerance for battlefields or military reunions and rarely asked about my experiences at the front. I didn't blame her though, and I was glad that she didn't complain when I told her that I'd be gone for six days. I never did come back. Not completely. That was in 1928, a time when thousands of memorials were still being erected across France and Belgium: great big arches engraved with row upon row of names; small plaques and crosses in little fenced-in plots; solitary obelisks and statues in village squares; every one of them attended by mothers and fathers and wives and lovers who still remembered; vividly. Page and a few others were there, dressed in their old uniforms, subtly altered. I didn't bring mine. Charlotte said I looked foolish when I tried it on, but that's not why I left it. Standing in front of the mirror and looking at myself, I decided I didn't want to see myself that way anymore. Not ever again. "It feels sort of strange to be here, doesn't it?" said Page, lighting his third cigarette in a row and cupping it in his hand to protect it from the rain. I thought he looked much older than his age and wondered how many years a war takes off a man. "I wasn't sure if I should come." "Glad you did," I said. "Makes me sad, thinking of the guys." I nodded. "At least this time we get to see France." "Yes, at least we can do that." I proposed that we meet in Paris on that Friday for a night out but he was leaving the next morning on a family vacation. Just in case, I gave him the name of the hotel where Charlotte and I were staying and told him to call, though I didn't think he would. The monument itself, a long granite rectangle four feet high, was draped in a white cloth. Nearby, two small tables were covered with food provided by a local committee of mostly overweight French women, who smiled incessantly and kissed our cheeks with great delight. After a few speeches the cloth was removed and a wreath placed at the base. During a moment of silence I closed my eyes tight and let the birds take me. When I opened my eyes I saw her. I knew right away, though I'd never seen her before. All the long nights listening to Daniel describe her; straining to see her face as he read her letters out loud, his voice mixing with the muffled cough of distant artillery. I stood up on my toes to get a better look at her, craning my neck above the small crowd. She stood farther back than anyone; I think she might have arrived late. I couldn't catch her eye but I could see her profile clearly. A little taller than I had imagined; darker hair, partially hidden beneath a scarf. When the ceremony ended, she walked slowly over to the monument and rested both hands on it, as though praying. Then she leaned forward and searched through the names. I stood immobile, watching. It had to be her. Julia. The woman Daniel had planned to marry. The mother of the child he never lived to meet. I remembered Daniel telling me how he felt the first time he saw her; how he just knew. I watched as she slowly ran her fingers along the granite, stopping at Daniel's name, then carefully tracing each letter. I looked at her slender hands and her narrow shoulders and the side of her face and her dark brown hair and the way she tilted her head slightly, as though adjusting to the sight of Daniel's name in stone. Finally I approached her. "Julia?" She turned quickly and I saw those bright green eyes, and even in her sadness they were smiling, just like Daniel described them. So it was her. And how perfect she looked, more perfect than I had imagined, with the kind of face that you instinctively want to touch and kiss and gaze at for hours. Even now as I recall her features: her sharp jawline, her small nose and pronounced cheekbones--what I remember most is the searing sensation of looking into her eyes for the first time, eyes that would haunt me for the rest of my life. "I'm sorry, I should introduce myself. I'm-" "But wait, I know who you are." "You do?" "Patrick. Patrick . . . Delaney. Am I right?" "Yes, but how did you know?" "I've heard a lot about you, from Daniel's letters." She offered me her hand. "I'm glad to meet you. I never expected . . ." "I didn't either." The rain started to come down faster and soon people were hurrying to their cars. I saw Page wave at me as he struggled with an umbrella. "You're wet. Should we go?" I asked, wishing I had an umbrella to offer her. "I don't mind it," she said. I watched a drop of rain run slowly down her cheek, hesitating at the corner of her mouth. I struggled not to stare. She wasn't glamorous. There was even a certain plainness to her appearance--no fashionable bob or plucked eyebrows--but that's what made her so appealing. Her warm, soft features were strikingly natural, as though she'd look the same whether just getting out of bed or going out to dinner. Meanwhile, her shy smile and flashing eyes--what life they held!--suggested an interesting combination of strength and vulnerability. When I caught myself staring, I forced my gaze away. WHAT HAPPENED. I'm still not sure.  Not completely.  Too many holes.  But I keep asking the same question, asking over and over until I am limp with exhaustion.  And I always come back to that first day I met her; to that face looking up at me with those sad beautiful eyes and those trembling lips and that soft struggling voice. I always come back to Julia.   I can still see her clearly, even with these fading eyes of mine.  Not for much longer though.  You see, I am eighty-one now and everything hurts, sometimes all at once.  Feet, knees, hips, lower back, stomach, head.  One false step and smash, old man Delaney will splinter into a thousand pieces of brittle bone on cold cement.  Then pneumonia and slow suffocation with concerned faces staring down at me like I'm laid out under glass; thick, heavy glass pressing against my wheezing chest.  And finally, a forced retreat through drug-induced mists with voices calling fainter and fainter and me unable to scream until Patrick Delaney, loving father of two children, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren; failed husband to one failed marriage (long long ago and mostly my fault); lover of many (but not nearly enough, which causes me tremendous grief); fiercely loyal friend to a few (all dead now but one, who can barely hear); disappears with a last shallow and putrid exhale. Shit. I've planned the funeral.  Nothing starchy or pompous.  Just a few words of comfort to mislead the survivors (no use dwelling on what's in store for them), a few of may favorite songs-- If Ever Would I Leave You, There's a Place for Us, "Shenandoah"; I keep a list--and an absolute ban on holy pabulum, since I don't believe a bit of it anyway.  My ashes are to be discreetly scattered in the vineyards of Napa Valley--a deep, velvety cabernet, I've requested--giving me one last shot at the lips of an appreciative woman.  The instructions, handwritten on two pages, are in an envelope in the top drawer of my bed stand.  Waiting. So am I, though with scant enthusiasm.  The fact that I still floss is simply my way of saying, "Up yours, Lord; you can destroy my spirit but not my gums."  Not yet. Strange how we labor all our lives to preserve our teeth--the one body part most likely to reemerge a few million years later from beneath the sands of the East African Rift, our incisors the subject of award-winning documentaries.  I look at my teeth and remember how, as a boy, the whine of the dentist drill and the sickly taste of enamel so rudely challenged my adolescent sense of immortality.  Head back and mouth open in an animallike snarl, I squeezed the hand rests and struggled not to cry.   Where are you, boy?  I stare into the wood-framed mirror just above the small oak dresser in my room, searching.  Some days I catch just a glimpse of him in the corner of my eyes, a small and frightened youth now buried beneath the rubble.  Come back here, boy! Sometimes I see him in my hands, now gnarled and splotchy but still, unmistakably, his hands too.  I see them fumble with a ball, work a mitt, dig in the sand for hours.  He's a kind boy, shy and uncertain yet full of yearning.  Baby fat still hides the knuckles.  He runs with the awkward gait of a newborn colt.  Always running.  Come back! Other days the hands look older and filthy dirty with broken nails and lacerations and I see them tremble as they grip a rifle.  The noise is tremendous and I want to warn him but I can't and I watch as he scrambles up the dirt with those hands clawing to the top and he staggers to his feet and runs, running madly until he disappears into smoke and horror.  Careful! And me?  Ha!  I look like I'm 120, give or take.  A small ember from a once-roaring fire.  The older I get, the more out of place I feel, like a weekend guest still loitering around the cottage on Sunday night because he's got no place else to go.  How awkward, to feel a burden.  Better to pack my things and move on.  But please, before I go, isn't there supposed to be some sort of resolution?  A denouement before the final curtain?  Redemption?  Atonement?  Extreme unction, perhaps?  I feel none.  Just loose ends that snap and crackle like downed electrical lines.   Some mornings when I confront the mirror--it's always a bitter confrontation--I recoil, shocked by the once-ruddy face that abruptly (at least that's how it feels) turned ashen gray before sagging into layers like cheap shingles on a tear down.  My hair, once light brown and thick, is a deathly gray, not a color really but what remains when there is no color left; the stuff on old corpses that are disinterred so that promising Ph.D.'s can examine whether the poor bugger was poisoned with arsenic after all, which of course he was. Staring at the gaunt silhouette in the mirror, which stares back with imploring eyes, I realize my body has abdicated.  The anarchists are on the palace grounds. You can't see me, can you?  Not if you are young and still unbeaten.  I am black and white fading to gray; you are living color.  I am driven by pain; you by passion.  I am a shadow, diaphanous and bent.  An OLD MAN.  A SENIOR citizen.  A GERIATRIC.  At best, I've devolved into one of those quaint caricatures, Grandmas and Grandpas with fishy breath and worn to the nub buttoned-down sweaters (buttoned down because we can no longer manage a pullover). To you, I look as though I have always been old, a permanent disfigurement upon the human landscape and a painful reminder of the road ahead.  (Though you don't really believe you'll ever look this bad, do you?)  To me, the face in the mirror continues to torment long after the initial, degrading changes, like being convicted and punished daily for the crime of simply hanging in there day after day. Grant me that I did hang in there, never boarding a doomed plane, never inhaling a deadly virus, never crushed by a car.  For eighty-one years I have ducked and dodged the slings and arrows of outrageous bullshit.  Missed me, bastards!  Six months on the Western Front and the whole goddamn German Army--the jack-booted Jägers, the Landwehr and the Sturmtruppen, the Scharfschützen and the Flammentruppen and the Prussian Guard--couldn't lay a fucking finger on me.  (Well, maybe a few fingers, but not enough to do the job.)  Kiss my ass, Ludendorff!  (You butcher.) Yet finally, I am brought to my swollen knees by a hundred thousand indignities, small slices of the blade that have drained the blood from my face. And I'm so tired. Excerpted from Losing Julia by Jonathan Hull All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.