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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

The Postmistress
Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam
ISBN: 0399156194
Pages: 336 pgs
Genre: Historical Fiction/World War II
Challenges-Read’n’Review Challenge, 100+ Reading Challenge

 Publisher’s Description:

It is 1940. France has fallen. Bombs are dropping on London. And President Roosevelt is promising he won't send our boys to fight in "foreign wars."

But American radio gal Frankie Bard, the first woman to report from the Blitz in London, wants nothing more than to bring the war home. Frankie's radio dispatches crackle across the Atlantic ocean, imploring listeners to pay attention--as the Nazis bomb London nightly, and Jewish refugees stream across Europe. Frankie is convinced that if she can just get the right story, it will wake Americans to action and they will join the fight.

Meanwhile, in Franklin, Massachusetts, a small town on Cape Cod, Iris James hears Frankie's broadcasts and knows that it is only a matter of time before the war arrives on Franklin's shores. In charge of the town's mail, Iris believes that her job is to deliver and keep people's secrets, passing along the news that letters carry. And one secret she keeps are her feelings for Harry Vale, the town mechanic, who inspects the ocean daily, searching in vain for German U-boats he is certain will come. Two single people in midlife, Iris and Harry long ago gave up hope of ever being in love, yet they find themselves unexpectedly drawn toward each other.

Listening to Frankie as well are Will and Emma Fitch, the town's doctor and his new wife, both trying to escape a fragile childhood and forge a brighter future. When Will follow's Frankie's siren call into the war, Emma's worst fears are realized. Promising to return in six months, Will goes to London to offer his help, and the lives of the three women entwine.

Alternating between an America still cocooned in its inability to grasp the danger at hand and a Europe being torn apart by war, The Postmistress gives us two women who find themselves unable to deliver the news, and a third woman desperately waiting for news yet afraid to hear it.

Sarah Blake's The Postmistress shows how we bear the fact that war goes on around us while ordinary lives continue. Filled with stunning parallels to today, it is a remarkable novel.

My Review:

I picked The Postmistress up at exactly the right time. I was in the mood for a historical fiction that was not all medieval, romantic or war-like. I was looking for something that was more modern and more literary fiction than romance. This was the perfect book for me right now.

There were some really interesting characters in The Postmistress. Not because they were at all eccentric or outlandish but because they were real and I could identify with something in each and every one of them. Emma and Will’s story was my favorite. They were such heartbreaking characters. I wanted so desperately for them to have a happy ending (and in a way they did). Frankie was also really great. She was perhaps the most active character in the novel and I really liked her. Her recordings were the main source of my tears when I read this book. Thomas’ was especially sad. His death scene was the hardest for me to take even though he was only a part of the story for a few pages.

The writing is beautiful. Some of the descriptions and language was so beautiful that I went back and reread the passage again for no reason other than the wording just struck me. The birth scene with Maggie and Will was plain old excruciating. It could have easily become gruesome (especially for someone who is clinically terrified of giving birth) but it wasn’t. Blake used a great amount of restraint in not over-describing the scene but conveying the pain that both Will and Maggie were in through great descriptions and language. Blake does subtlety so well.

Normally, when I read a book with a constantly changing point of view, I get frustrated. The novel usually ends up disjointed and unreadable. At least for me. I know some people love books like that but they usually result in confusion for me. I usually need a consistent narrator or clear transitions between point of views to be able to get into a book. This was not the case with The Postmistress. I was a bit troublesome at the start of the novel but once I acclimated myself to the shifts, I really started to like it. I guess if it is done well, it really doesn’t matter.

My favorite part of The Postmistress is the fact that it is very woman-centric. The women were the only ones left standing at the end of the novel. Even though this is a novel that is very much about the start of a war, it is also very much about how women were impacted by it. I think that is a topic that is has been largely neglected. When we read a war novel we expect to read about battles and mayhem but I think the more interesting stuff happens on the homefront.

This would be perfect for a bookclub (even though I have never been a part of a bookclub). This would be the ideal book to read with a group of friends. Even those who are not a big fan of historical fiction will find something to like with The Postmistress.

*A copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher for review. My opinion is my own and has not been influenced in any way and any monies made from associate or affiliate accounts are recycled back into the blog.


  1. My book club will be reading this in several months and I can't wait!

  2. It is really great. I hope you enjoy it!

  3. I enjoyed this one as well. I got really frustrated with Will however, even though he thought he was being noble and going to help he abandoned Emma yet again (after her having been orphaned) and that made me lose respect for him. I loved that it was from the women's point of view since so much about WWII is about the men fighting.

    I am in your B&N discussion for Before I Fall and saw your introduction in the posts. I like your blog.

  4. I also enjoyed how this was about the women. Often all you hear about them is Rosie the Riveter.

    Thanks for commenting.



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