Image Credit: sarahblakebooks
Learning a language with all seriousness can be exhausting! Especially when your teacher gives you plenty of homework everyday. And this is the reason why I took so long to finish one book. But am enjoying it, I love the process of learning everyday and it refreshes me.
The book in question is The Postmistress by Sarah Blake, which had been on my “to read” list for a long time. Needless to say, I grabbed it when I saw it in the library. First, here is a brief of the story from the back cover –
It is 1940, and American radio reporter Frankie Bard is making a name for herself broadcasting the horrifying truth of the bombing raids from London during the Blitz. Frankie’s dispatches crackle across the Atlantic imploring her countrymen to pay attention. Listening to Frankie is Iris James, postmistress in a peaceful coastal town on Cape Cod. Iris firmly believes that her job is to keep and deliver people’s secrets, to pass along the news of love and sorrow that letters carry. Emma Fitch, the doctor’s new wife, also tunes into Frankie’s nightly bulletins, desperate to hear news of London where her husband is helping out. She counts the days until his return and his letters are a lifeline that keeps her from unraveling. But one night in London the fates of all three women cross when Frankie finds a letter she vows to deliver.
With this interesting premise and being set during World War II, I could not resist it. And I must say that Blake has managed to evoke some really powerful war scenes that made me feel that I was there with Frankie Bard, right in the centre of the maelstrom. There are numerous scenes visualizing a bombing and its aftermath and of refugees being shot at point blank. Frankie Bard is witness to all this and more and despite her tough exterior, she finds that she is emotionally unraveling. One of the hardest hitting vignettes in the book was when Frankie goes to check on her colleagues Harriet and Dowell at her flat after a bombing –
The back of the flat had simply vanished, while the front remained as usual, the lamp on the table, the hooks across from the door on which hung Harriet’s coat, and Dowell’s. It was unreal. No shape. In the first few seconds she stood in the door, looking at Harriet’s coat, seeing that there was no bedroom anymore to the left, while to the right the morning light reached all the way through the glassless windows of the front room, and seeing that letter waited from Harriet’s cousin in Poland, waited patiently by the front door, standing perfectly normally against the wall, waiting for Harriet.
That last sentence was eerie in a way and I kept imagining the scene over and over. I was most attracted to the character of Frankie Bard because of her spirit and determination to do her job. As she travels across Europe recording different voices in her machine, she encounters many terrible moments. But the worst realization that she faces is that most Americans remained unaware of what was really happening to people on the other side of the Atlantic.
The only other person who is remotely aware is Iris the postmistress through whose hands pass letters and postcards.
As the postmaster, she knew everybody’s business and almost everybody’s sins. Some postmasters fell in love with the secrets, and played them out as breathlessly as a bad novel…But she’d give a quick glance at the person handing her their mail, a nice smile, and then she’d turn and toss what they gave her, passing it on. She watched it all. And she never said a word. The whole thing depended on her silence.
However, for once she takes an important decision against her beliefs. When she receives news pertaining to Emma Fitch. She did more than give a quick glance. By placing Iris in this position, Blake explores the moral dilemma of many post(wo)men. Do they shield someone from the truth in order to prevent a bigger disaster from happening or do they do their job as usual? I don’t know what I would have done in Iris’ situation, honestly. Iris gives a nice perspective on the mundane job of delivering letters to people and sets you thinking a little.
Emma Fitch on the other hand is a sweet character, innocent and shy. Yet, she shows her resilience in her silent ways many times, especially when the town doctor and her husband, Will Fitch, leaves for London against her wishes.
Will himself is an interesting character. Through him Blake presents another choice. Would you try and help other people who are suffering in the war or be home with your new wife, who is also new to town and who is also pregnant? Will never knew that Emma was pregnant but paying no heed to the dangers of the war zone, he chose to be true to his profession and leave Emma promising to return soon.
All these elements make The Postmistress an interesting read. But at the end of the book I felt everything had happened the way I had expected it to be. There were no other secrets divulged, no twists and no relief. Yet, three women’s lives had been changed forever. It is this quiet understanding that lends an edge to the book. For those who can see beyond the stereotypes that are definitely present in it, The Postmistress is a satisfying read.
Verdict: War novel enthusiasts will love the atmosphere and for others the three women at the centre of the novel are definitely worth a read