Friday, September 17, 2010

Book Review: The Postmistress

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

I chose this book, at first drawn by the beautiful cover - the old tattered letters, the beautiful dried rose. Then on further inspection I read this recommendation: "A beautifully written, thought-provoking novel that I'm telling everyone I know to read." - Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help. Having just finished (and loved) The Help, I took this recommendation very seriously.

The Postmistress is about 3 women whose lives come together in the fate of a letter, the postmistress of Franklin, Massachusetts is Iris James, in the same little Cape Cod town is Emma Fitch the doctor's wife, and then reporting from London is Frankie Bard, a journalist delivering daily broadcasts over the radio on the war in Europe.

It is 1940, the war overseas is raging but the US is not yet involved, still detached, just listening to the daily radio reports. Frankie Bard was in London reporting for Edward R. Murrow, and she begged Mr. Murrow to send her into Europe, where the action was, where the Jews were being persecuted, to get to the heart of the story - "so that she can take down the stories because she wants to put the patchwork quilt together and show America that in fact there is something going on."

I liked the quilt metaphor and thought that like a quilt there are many threads that bind these different people together, Iris and Emma feel connected to Frankie through her daily radio broadcasts, Emma is connected to Iris the postmistress through her daily letters to her husband, and the ultimate thread of fate brings these three women together.

The pieces of this patchwork quilt are the many letters that pass through the hands of the postmistress, the people of the small town, the desperate voices of the refugees recorded by Frankie on location in Europe, the love stories between Iris and Harry, Will and Emma.

These pieces and threads are all woven into this quilt story, the smaller pieces would be filler around the prominent central story lines - the 3 women and the 3 key letters, and all sewn onto a background of underlying fear and danger of war.

An interview with the author reveals the story behind The Postmistress:

"A long time ago I had a picture in my head, I was living in Cape Cod and I was wondering how much the woman who kept charge of the Post Office, how much she knew about us and what did she hide and what did she keep and into my head came the image of a woman in a Post Office looking at a letter and slipping it into her pocket."~Sarah Blake


This book was read as part of an online bookclub, Book Buddies, created by Bonnie Jacobs. (I met Bonnie - a writer, blogger, pastor, bookstore owner, college professor, and more - while in her beautiful hometown of Chattanooga.) This bookclub discussion has made me appreciate the book much more than when I first read it, I enjoy the process of dissection and learning and appreciating the book. The book is intriguing, the characters are real and compelling. A very good read.


1 comment:

Stray Stitches said...

I, too, love The Help. Thanks for the review, I will look for this book. Can't pass up a good read!