Thursday, July 19, 2012

Fiction Review: The Postmistress

Summer is usually my no-book-group time, when I have no reading obligations because both of my regular book groups take the summer off, but my library’s pick for its July discussion prompted me to set aside my Big Book Summer Challenge for a while.  I’m glad I did.  The group read The Postmistress by Sarah Blake; I enjoyed both the novel and the discussion very much.

The Postmistress is set at the very start of World War II, before the United States has gotten involved.  I’ve read a lot of novels about World War II, but this one covered aspects I knew little about – the U.S.’s apathy at the beginning of the war , the extensive bombing of London, and the world’s ignorance of what was really going on.

There are three main characters at the heart of the book, whose stories are initially separate but gradually come together (I love that in a novel!).  Iris James is the Postmaster in Franklin, MA, a tiny town on the tip of Cape Cod.  She’s been single all her life but now is falling for Harry Vale, the town mechanic who worries they may be in a vulnerable position if the Germans cross the Atlantic.  Emma Fitch has just moved to town, newly married to the town’s doctor, and feeling happy for the first time in her difficult life.  And Frankie Bard is an American woman, reporting live on the war from London.  Emma, Iris, and Harry – as well as the rest of America – all listen to Frankie’s lively radio reports.

Frankie is in the midst of nonstop bombing by the Germans.  I knew London had been bombed during the war, but I had no idea of the extent of the bombing nor how long it went on.  Frankie and other London residents spend every night in underground shelters (many of them just Tube stations), huddled on the hard ground with a blanket and listening to the bombing above.  They emerge each morning to discover whole sections of the city gone.  Frankie tries to convey to her American audience not only the severity of the bombing but also the significance of the war and what is happening to the Jews; she wants the United States to wake up to what is going on in Europe and get involved.

The story unfolds from all three women’s perspectives as the war worsens and their lives each begin to unravel in unforeseen ways.  Eventually, their lives entwine, as one of them waits desperately for news and the other two find themselves unable to deliver a critical bit of news.  The action alternates between Frankie’s observation of (and involvement in) the horrible things going on in Europe and the ordinary lives continuing in the U.S. as if nothing is happening.

I really loved this book, especially the way the disparate stories slowly came together.  The historical backdrop was fascinating, the characters were interesting and sympathetic, and the plot was unique and surprising.  This is an excellent book group pick; our discussion was in-depth and covered many diverse topics, from details of this period in history to the ethics of certain characters’ actions to the parallels with what is happening in the world today.

318 pages, Amy Einhorn Books


  1. I had this out from the library awhile ago but had to return it unread because it was due back. I love novels with characters/storylines that come together, so I might have to pick this one up again soon.

  2. I thought this book was just OK. Glad you liked it, though.