Thursday, April 15, 2010

Review: The Postmistress

Summary: Those who carry the truth sometimes bear a terrible burden... Filled with stunning parallels to today's world, The Postmistress is a sweeping novel about the loss of innocence of two extraordinary women-and of two countries torn apart by war.

On the eve of the United States's entrance into World War II in 1940, Iris James, the postmistress of Franklin, a small town on Cape Cod, does the unthinkable: She doesn't deliver a letter.

In London, American radio gal Frankie Bard is working with Edward R. Murrow, reporting on the Blitz. One night in a bomb shelter, she meets a doctor from Cape Cod with a letter in his pocket, a letter Frankie vows to deliver when she returns from Germany and France, where she is to record the stories of war refugees desperately trying to escape.

The residents of Franklin think the war can't touch them- but as Frankie's radio broadcasts air, some know that the war is indeed coming. And when Frankie arrives at their doorstep, the two stories collide in a way no one could have foreseen.

The Postmistress is an unforgettable tale of the secrets we must bear, or bury. It is about what happens to love during war­time, when those we cherish leave. And how every story-of love or war-is about looking left when we should have been looking right. -- Amy Einhorn

I had quite a few reasons for wanting to read THE POSTMISTRESS by Sarah Blake. My on-line book club planned on discussing in for April (now May), and it also counts for the Amy Einhorn Books Perpetual Challenge. Plus, I have read so many rave reviews for it throughout the blogosphere. I guess it's safe to say that I had pretty big expectations for this novel. Unfortunately, I'm not quite sure that it lived up to them. I liked THE POSTMISTRESS. I might even go so far as to say that I really liked it. I just didn't love it (and I really thought I would.)

I do love the idea behind THE POSTMISTRESS though. This historical novel takes place during World War II (one of my favorite time periods) and tells the story of three very different women. The story goes back and forth between each of the three women, and the reader sees how each one is affected by the war. Frankie is the probably the most directly affected since she is a reporter living in Europe reporting on the fighting. Iris, the postmaster of a small town on Cape Cod, and Emma, another resident of the town, are away from the action. However, Emma's husband heads to Europe to use his medical training to help the injured so I guess she is somewhat indirectly involved in the fighting. I thought the author did a wonderful job of juxtaposing each of the women's thoughts, emotions, and actions against each other to make the point that war affects everyone on some level.

While I definitely enjoyed all three of the women's stories, I found myself really becoming involved in Frankie's. I found her to be so interesting and complex, and my heart really went out to her. First of all, Frankie was a woman in the 1940s, a very different time than the present for women; and she headed overseas to report on the war. Just living in London put her in constant danger, but Frankie chose to go out on the front lines with soldiers so she could tell their story. In addition, she also recorded the thoughts and fears of many Jewish people who were "forced" to evacuate their homes while riding with them on trains. Frankie saw more heartache, pain. loss, and cruelty than any person should ever see. There is no doubt that Frankie was forever changed by her experiences. As I read Frankie's story, it dawned on me that she was not alone. They were hundreds of thousands of people living in Europe who saw these tragedies everyday. Needless to say, it really affected me and I saw the horror of war in an entirely new, almost personal, light.

I can't put my finger on what kept me from loving this book. It could have been something that happens towards the end of the story that I didn't think exactly fit with the rest of the novel, but I really don't think that was a big enough issue to bother me (and other readers might have loved that scene.) One thing that I did have a not-so-easy time getting used to was how the author transitioned between the stories. It very well could just be me (and I do feel a little dumb for having this problem at the beginning of the book), but it took me quite a few pages to get used to how she went back and forth between the characters. Once I realized what was happening, I no longer had any trouble and I actually ended up appreciating the way the author transitioned between the stories.

I was extremely impressed with Ms. Blake's writing. I thought she told a beautiful story, and there were so many times that a passage really stood out to me. I loved the insight that her characters showed, and I especially loved how she incorporated so many recurring themes into each of the character's lives. While THE POSTMISTRESS was at times a powerful and heartbreaking book, I appreciated how Ms. Blake managed to show the strength and resilience of these three women. I did finish the book with a sense of hope, and maybe that's because the author kept showing the compassion of man and how joy does come from loss.

I do think THE POSTMISTRESS would make an excellent pick for book clubs. There are so many issues to talk about, and I truly think these characters are fascinating. There is a reading guide available which is especially good! Not only does it delve into what happens in the book, but it also poses more general questions about the time period, news reporting, and war. Some of the other topics that you might want to explore include love, grief, new beginnings, racism, ethical dilemmas, loss of innocence, faith, secrets, and the compassion of mankind. I think THE POSTMISTRESS is one of those novels that you could discuss for hours and hours.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy of this novel.


Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

I had some of the same problems that you had with the beginning but was more involved with the book as I was able to straighten out the different characters. I had some issues with the end as well but I thought it made for a great discussion piece.

DCMetroreader said...

I haven't read this yet (it's on my TBR list), but I've found that sometimes in the past when I have high expectations I tend to be disappointed. Oh well, it still sounds quite good!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Yikes. I think my expectations are elevated for the same reasons yours were. It is loaded on my Kindle waiting for our summer traveling. I will read it, but will keep that whole transitioning thing in mind while I am.

bermudaonion said...

This book started off slow for me too, but I did enjoy it once I got into it. I think the title it somewhat mis-leading, and I think that confused me somewhat at the beginning too.

Beth F said...

I liked this much better than you did, but there were definitely flaws. I think it will make a great discussion book, though.

Kaye said...

i thought the ending was a little disappointing too. Frankie was the best character in the book, imho. I thought the author did a fantastic job of the bombing scenes in London and the feel from the people while they sheltered underground. Emma was way too bland for me. You are right about it being a good book club choice as there are many themes that could be explored. Glad you mostly enjoyed it!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I wasn't so overwhelmed by this book but I know quite a few people were.

Michelle said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who had issues with this book. Like you, it just didn't sit well with me, or live up to expectations, but I couldn't put my finger on it.

I think I would've liked to see a lot more of what happened on the immigrant trains. That would've been much more interesting, to me.

Lisa said...

I really liked a lot about this book but I definitely didn't feel like it lived up to its potential.

Michelle said...

I am beginning to see more and more of these types of reviews, and I am so glad that I was not the only one to be disappointed. My issue was with Emma. She just was not the same type of character as the other two. I will freely admit that my expectations were a bit too high based on some of the reviews I had been reading. And yes, the title is completely misleading.

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

I had high expectations for this one too. And, it had all the makings of a great novel, the pieces just didn't quite fit together.

Meghan said...

Wow, I was avoiding reviews before but you're right - we do feel pretty much the same! I think the hype really hurt the novel for me. I'm not sure I'd have had the same reaction if I hadn't known everyone adored it.

Meghan @ Medieval Bookworm

Anna said...

I haven't read this one, and like you, I have some pretty high expectations for it. Thanks for the honest review. I'm still looking forward to reading it at some point. I'll link to your review on War Through the Generations if that's okay. ;)

Diary of an Eccentric