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Love in the Years of Lunacy

Love in the Years of Lunacy

A Novel

  • reading group guide
From an award-winning novelist comes a wonderfully inspiring story about the ill-fated love affair between a white female jazz saxophonist and a black American GI, set against the backdrop of 1940s Sydney.

Sydney, 1942. Pearl is eighteen, beautiful, and impetuous. She plays saxophone in an all-girl jazz band at the Trocadero and occasionally sits in on underground gigs with her twin brother, Martin, who also plays the sax. One evening, black GI and jazz legend James Washington blows into her life, and love begins to unfold against the blacked-out nights and rumor-filled days of a city in the grip of war.

When James is shipped out to fight in New Guinea, Pearl hatches a breathtaking plan to reunite with him. And then all hell breaks loose. Internationally acclaimed author Mandy Sayer writes with astonishing insight and tenderness in this audaciously original novel—a romance with a haunting jazz soundtrack and a war story like no other.
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  • Atria Books | 
  • 336 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451678468 | 
  • November 2012
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Read an Excerpt


A rainy day in May. Sydney was alive with swirling leaves and the cries of flying fruit bats. Afternoon showers fell on wilting flowers, sandstone buildings, vegetable stalls, a war bond rally in Martin Place. It dimpled the harbour, slicked the surface of ship decks, flooded gutters littered with condoms and cigarette butts. It sprinkled on women queuing for rations, factory workers waiting for cancelled trams, Asian immigrants who’d been interned on the grounds of a mental asylum after Japan had entered the war. In the evening, it fell on American servicemen as they picked up local women, on prostitutes out to score a greenback... see more

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Love in the Years of Lunacy includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Set in the Kings Cross neighborhood of Sydney in 1942, Love in the Years of Lunacy is a war-torn tale of love and jazz. Pearl, just shy of her eighteenth birthday, is the impetuous daughter of showbiz musicians. She plays saxophone in an all-girl jazz band at the Trocadero and occasionally sits in on underground gigs with her twin brother Martin, who also plays the sax. When the enlisted American G.I. James Washington breezes into the Booker T. Washington Club one night and brings down the house with his tenor sax solo, Pearl is hooked. Their budding romance unfolds against the blacked-out nights and rumorfilled days of a city in the grip of war. In the face of mid-century attitudes about race and gender, and the looming threat of the Japanese, this is the story of two young musicians in love, and their struggle to stay together against increasingly unlikely odds.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. The book’s title draws on Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel Love in the Time of Cholera, also about a young see more

About the Author

Mandy Sayer
Photograph by Adam Knott

Mandy Sayer

Mandy Sayer has written several books of fiction and nonfiction. Her awards include the Vogel Literary Award, the National Biography Award, the South Australian Premier’s Award for Nonfiction, the Age Book of the Year for Nonfiction and the Davitt Award for Young Adult Fiction. Sayer is a regular columnist for the Australian newspaper and the Wentworth Courier. She lives in Sydney.




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