Title: The Postmistress written by Sarah Blake
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published by Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Page Count: 336
Rating 5/5 , it was amazing! Couldn’t put it down! I want to shout it from the top of a mountain!
Goodreads 2013 Reading Challenge #2
I really love it when a book I’m a little unsure of and of which I know nothing about slowly creeps its way into my heart, seizes it and just annihilates it (in a good way). The Postmistress was definitely one of these types of books. I really struggled with what sort of rating to give it, a 4 or a 5 but I ended up settling on a 5 seeing as how my final reaction after finishing the book was definitely one of awe and love.
The Postmistress is set during World War II in the period where the United States is trying to remain “neutral”. Although we do hear from a few male characters, the meat of the story is told from the perspectives of three female characters (which is interesting seeing how two of the women have jobs that were during that time traditionally held by men: postmaster and news reporter): Iris the postmistress, Emma the young wife of a doctor, and Frankie who is one of few serious female news reporters covering the war. Through their separate narratives we follow the events of each of their lives and the struggles that they each endure. We see Emma struggle with her loneliness and desperation when her husband, the doctor leaves her for London where he wants to aid in the war effort. We see Iris the postmistress fall in love, struggle with her morals, and deal with the grief of losing her long awaited love. Lastly, we see Frankie and her mission to report nothing but the truth about the war and the treatment of the Jews. We travel with her as she records the voices of men, women, and children she shares cramped train carts with and as she witnesses a man being shot before her and a child being separated from his mother through a large crowd of people. Towards the end of the story, these three narratives are woven together and all three women end up in the same place at the same time, going through many of the same things. I love when stories do this…when there are many different stories that end up being pieced together. Stories like this tend to draw me in completely.
There were a few things that struck me about this book. I really like the writing and the mood of the story. The writing – the descriptions, the colors, the characters – is all just very soft and light, even though the story is about war and human frailty. The idea of the “postmistress” and the importance of the accuracy of the post during such an important time as wartime is what really drew me to the story. Even though I know how important the post office is, I guess it’s something I take for granted in this age of email and text messaging. It was just interesting to consider for a second how life could be impacted by the delay of mail or the withholding of it in such a time when it was so vital.
I also really liked reading the note from the author that followed the story explaining her inspiration for the book. She said the idea sprung from catching a chance glimpse of the postmistress of her small town sorting the mail and slipping one of the envelopes into her pocket which is a situation she works into her novel which brings to mind the questions of, “What if that letter was something important?”, “What if it was a matter of life or death?”, or “What if that could have made an impact on the war?”. We see Iris struggle with this when she fails to give Emma a letter reporting on her husband missing for a few weeks and we see Frankie struggle with this as she comes back from her time in Germany while recording the people who have been torn from their homes.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. That being said I don’t think it’s for everyone. I love historical fiction and I tend to really love books whose stories occur during World War II. I find them painful to read because they are typically filled with a lot of sadness and grief but I think this is something that we need to feel about this time period because of the awful things that occurred during this time. I find also that there is typically such hope and wonder to be found in these stories as well…the light at the end of the tunnel and the beautiful inner strength of the human mind/body. I think this book started off really slow and I was a little confused at the beginning. I’m not really one to stop reading a book if I can’t get into it I tend to just trudge dutifully on hoping it will get better and I was definitely rewarded for keeping my head in the game on this one. I do recommend it if you like historical fiction books during World War II and are willing to give it a chance and hang in there. It was beautifully written, well researched, and utterly heartbreaking and moving.