Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What We're Reading: The Postmistress

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

This novel is set during WWII. Bombs fall nightly upon London and America listens to the news over the airwaves but keeps to the sidelines. Frankie Bard, a female reporter, seeks the stories that will cause her neighbors across the sea to pay attention and be moved into action. Among those listening are two women in Franklin, Massachusetts: Iris James, who is in charge of the town's post office, and Emma Fitch, whose doctor husband has volunteered to help those in the war-ravaged city. These women will find that their lives will become linked in ways that they could not have imagined.

Frankie wrestles with the reality on the ground. She hears the voices of those who were once alive and then extinguished in an instant. Or, arguably worse, she thinks of the people who have slipped into her life only to be lost to the fleeing Jewish masses, the rest of the story unknowable. Iris is weighed down by her responsibilities, keeping the secrets of the town that she gleans from letters that are written or unwritten. Emma, newly married, agonizes over the reason her husband left and worries about whether he will return safely.

There is a lot to dissect in this novel, making it the perfect choice for a book club selection. What is fate and what is accident? What is the real story, and can we be saved if it we remain ignorant of it? It's somewhat melancholy, but it pulls you in as you wait for the moment when these women find their way to one another. Then you will discover which letters are read, and which ones are never delivered at all.

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