I particularly loved the format of the advance copy of the book I read, with its book flaps. There are several books out there now with this design and it really works. However, I have since learned that my copy of the book is a bound galley and it will be published in a hard cover.
The book is set in a fictional town on Cape Cod and in Europe, but mainly England. The author has captured the times around World War II, perfectly. Her characters are described so well that you feel as if she must have known them and is now merely introducing them to you. Sarah Blake shows us how wartime random acts of fate effect ordinary people everywhere, not only those involved in fighting; she illustrates how, often, by accident rather than design, tragedies follow, madness ensues and nightmares are built.
There is a common thread of war that connects the characters but they each approach life differently. I witnessed each emotional scene as if I were there experiencing the moment with them, feeling the fear, humiliation, sadness, courage and sometimes, even happiness, in Europe and in America. The characters are so distinctly different and yet she caught all the nuances of each of them.
She captured the influence of journalism on the world, replete with the pressures on the journalist to present their stories accurately and impartially, without emotion, which is often a task impossible to deliver. The description of news reporting, during the era of World War II, contrasts completely with the way news is disseminated today with embedded journalists disseminating news 24/7 rather than on a set schedule whenever possible.
She captured all of the terror the people felt, during the blitz, and shared it with the reader. The war atmosphere was riveting. I was in the bomb shelter feeling the pounding of the bombs, I saw the bombed out buildings, I felt the shock of seeing random, unnecessary and most often, heartless deaths. She captured the desperation of the escaping Jews, and others, showing the anger and hatred some felt toward them, simply because they were Jews, or different. She captured the atmosphere abroad, in several countries, and at home, completely.
She captured the complacence of Americans, going about their lives as usual, just perhaps worrying about Germans who might be in their midst and about enemies who were not really enemies, but immigrants. On a very small scale, one could say it mirrored the hypocrisy of Hitler, and his followers, toward the Jews and others that they believed were subservient or deviant.
She captured the feelings of the men, in those days, that were ignoring the possibility of war, as well as the feelings of those who were preparing for the enemy or anticipating going to war. Some feared the possibility, some scoffed at it. She captured our values at that time and maybe even, our values today!
She captured the tone of the women’s lives, their expectations and ideals and their differing values at that time. She absolutely captured me!
The three main characters are women with totally different personalities but with their own form of courage. Iris, the postmistress, has moved into a new place to take a job women normally do not acquire. She has rigid ethical and moral standards and a taste for total organization. She lives a life governed or controlled by rules and regulations. Oddly, she seems somewhat Germanic in her need to follow ritual.
Frankie, a wartime journalist, from a privileged background in America, is also pushing herself into a world that women normally don’t inhabit. She lives her life abroad, totally in the moment, almost without any moral standards, the antithesis of Iris. Perhaps it is the danger she is in the midst of, that guides her in this direction. As the book progresses she becomes more idealistic and less motivated by her own immediate needs.
Emma is a more private person, orphaned at a young age, generally soft-spoken, who is embarking on an adventure, taking on the mantle of new wife in a strange town. As she matures, she often becomes more sharp-tongued.
Each of the women faces their own personal demons and traumas in different ways. Each of these women is joined to each other by the job of the “postmistress” in war time and the ultimate enormous effect the timely delivery of mail has on all of us. This book made me sad to realize that letter writing is a lost art form and we are now reduced mostly to reading sound-bites and emails which are often cold and without emotional message and will leave a very different kind of history in its wake.
This is an excellent book and I recommend it highly, especially for discussion with book groups.