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A Terrible Kindness: The Bestselling Richard and Judy Book Club Pick

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William gets his moment in the spotlight, but it is eclipsed by the handing of a telegram to the president, who reads it out: “Embalmers needed urgently at Aberfan. Bring equipment and coffins.” William does not hesitate. A passionate kiss from the student nurse who has captured his heart sends him off on this mercy mission. But William has no idea what the long-ranging effects of this charitable act will be.

A Terrible Kindness by Jo Browning Wroe | Waterstones A Terrible Kindness by Jo Browning Wroe | Waterstones

Despite the most tragic of scenarios, this is a book that is filled with love, hope, friendship and forgiveness. William’s life is for ever changed after his involvement in the aftermath of Aberfan and he decides at this tender age that he never wants to be a father. He’s seen first hand was loss looks and feels like.


Browning Wroe affirms that music acts as a kind of golden spiritual thread throughout the narrative, speaking of both brokenness and healing. For William, there is a period when it is absent from his life; his creator says that it was “like cutting his heart out”. Listen to the author Jo Browning Wroe in conversation with Malcolm Doney in this week’s Church Times podcast. This is a new monthly series produced in association with the Church Times Festival of Faith and Literature. The festival will return as an in-person event at the University of Winchester and Winchester Cathedral next February, and Jo Browning Wroe will be one of the speakers. faithandliterature.hymnsam.co.uk Author Jo Browning Wroe’s family home was within the grounds of a crematorium, and, as the daughter of the crem superintendent, death and funerals was not something unusual for her, nor were funeral directors.

Book club: A Terrible Kindness by Jo Browning Wroe

A Terrible Kindness does not wallow in, appropriate, or invade the events of Aberfan 56 years ago, but rather positions William’s experiences there as another layer of his life which wraps around him, constricts, and shapes his future. What was it about William and his experiences that made him such a good embalmer, and why was the activity so good for him? My father died nearly 40 years after we left the crematorium. Despite a lifelong career in the funeral industry, he refused to contemplate his own death and, even as a frail, elderly man, made no end-of-life plans. But there was never any question that he would be cremated, the means of disposal he had championed as the modern, clean, civilised option . For years I viewed burial as old-fashioned, unsophisticated, unsustainable. Today, the green burial movement offers a simpler, more environmentally friendly approach; many choose willow or cardboard coffins over the expensive treated wooden ones. My husband and I have already chosen the green burial ground we will be buried in – something my younger self would have been surprised at. But when it came to my father, cremation and a heavy, lacquered coffin seemed the only way to go, with his ashes being scattered in the crematorium grounds of which he had been so proud.

There were indoor playgrounds, too: a well-equipped office, especially appreciated on those endless Sunday afternoons. I enjoyed the electric typewriter, shooting its letters like bullets at the lightest of touches; the adding machine that printed out sums with a satisfying grind; and the sniffable felt tip pens. Best by far, though, was the little telephone switchboard, with compact levers to snap up and down, illuminating tiny red and green lights. Special mention must go to the recurrent musical threads of Myfanwy and Allegri’s Miserere mei, Deus which are so elegantly woven that only a hard heart would be unmoved.

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