Set against the backdrop of the British colony on 1950s' Cyprus, Sadie Jones's unique love story centers on the life of Major Hal Traherne, who is stationed for a month with his wife, lovely Clara, and their two daughters, Meg and Lottie, in the town of Limassol. Amid the sounds of motorbikes, Cypriot voices
and the banging shutters of other houses, Hal and Clara suddenly find themselves immersed in a war of intelligence and a war of subterfuge and of rumor.
Hal - a man from a staunchly military family - arrives in Cyprus full of idealistic zeal, intent
on changing the Cypriots' hearts and minds and to root out terrorism throughout the island. While Clara tends to the girls, Hal, acting on orders from his chief, Colonel Burroughs, is given the task of rooting out
EOKA terrorist Loulla Kollias with a mission that culminates in a raid on his country farmhouse.
Meanwhile, Clara is left alone at home, trying to accept the reality of their situation. Their rented house in Limassol is empty, and thereís an evil around her that seems to be hiding itself. She doesnít want Hal to think that she isnít coping, so she befriends Mark and Deirdre Innes
- and later, Captain Davis, who experiences an unspoken sympathy for Clara that is
at once mysterious and comforting. Battered by his obsession with Clara, Davis begins to fall in love with her.
Cushioned by familiar desire and rejection, Jonesís novel centers on the moral dilemmas of Hal and Clara, as
well as that of Davis, who becomes romantically fixated on the wife of a man whose authority and principle he admires and resents in equal measure. Clara seems to be immune to the careless beauty of the world and the soft shifting of her new baby inside of her, while Hal dreads the darkness where the smallest defiant act could extinguish another British life.
Beyond Hal and Claraís fragile love story are the scenes of violence and turmoil: an ambush in a cave, the screaming of the men loud and echoing; a land mine explosion on a beach - two dead soldiers the collateral damage
- along with the graphic descriptions of carnage, blood and sand, a horse shot with sand on its breathless muzzle. These scenes are chillingly atmospheric, filled with violent detail along with the empty despair of Britain as she tries to keep her slender grasp on Empire.
As the focus shifts from Cyprus to England, Cypriots and soldiers continue to play out the long game of complicity and enmity, welcome and rebellion. Throughout, this is undoubtedly Halís story as he battles with his shame, lurching between disintegration and control as he tries to struggle with the personal moral dilemmas of war. Peppered with complex characters, Hal and Clara at its center, Small Wars paints a compelling portrait of a country on the edge, a soldier and his beautiful wife trapped in a rapidly disintegrating world.