The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
Published February 2010 by Penguin Group
Source: Barnes and Noble First Look program
As the United States watches the war in Europe in 1940 and ponders it's own role in the conflict, two women follow events from two entirely different points of view.
Iris James is the new postmistress in Franklin, a small town on Cape Cod. Iris is a stickler for doing things the right way, following rules, living in an orderly way. But then Iris begins to find her place in Franklin and to care about the people that live there. She falls in love, much to her surprise because she has reached an age when she thought it would not happen, with Harry, the local mechanic. Harry is firmly convinced that the German U-boats are a threat to the U.S. coast line and spends a portion of every day watching the waters for signs of trouble. Then there is young Emma, whose husband, Will, the town doctor, has gone off to London to help the victims of the German bombings. Emma is in the post office every day, posting a letter to Will and picking one up. Iris begins to feel that Emma is someone very fragile that she needs to care for and protect.
On the other side of the ocean is Frankie Bard. Frankie is a reporter, living in London, and working on the radio with Edward Murrow reporting on the war. Frankie thinks she's in control until people that she cares about begin to die. When she ends up with Will in a shelter during a bombing raid and that time changes the course of her life. Frankie becomes convinced that what is happening to the Jews in Europe needs to be reported and talks Murrow into letting her go onto the continent to investigate. There Frankie becomes a changed person as she deals with one horror after another. When Frankie can't handle it any more, she heads to Franklin to deliver a letter.
Iris and Emma listen to Frankie's reports on the radio and throughout the book, Blake jumps back and forth from one side of the ocean to the other using the radio transmissions to connect the two. This can be a jarring, particularly at first as the reader is trying to get acclimated to the writing style. Blake writes beautifully and I really liked the juxtaposition of life on Cape Cod with life in war-torn Europe. Some who have read the book have found this difficult. When we're in Franklin, we're largely reading a character study. When we're in Europe there is much more action and a direction to the story. Frankie is a wonderful character; watching her change throughout the book really kept the book interesting for me. I also could really empathize with Emma, who really was a fragile person, an orphan living in a place where she had no real friends.
This was the third book centered around WWII that I read in a row, which was not at all planned. I really enjoyed it's look at war from yet another angle, the writing, and the characters. Blake throws in enough surprises to keep things interesting and I found myself being pulled through it.