About this book: (from the publisher) Current day, Oxford, England. Young American scholar Kendra Van Zant, eager to pursue her vision of a perfect life, interviews Isabel McFarland just when the elderly woman is ready to give up secrets about the war that she has kept for decades…beginning with who she really is. What Kendra receives from Isabel is both a gift and a burden–one that will test her convictions and her heart.
1940s, England. As Hitler wages an unprecedented war against London’s civilian population, hundreds of thousands of children are evacuated to foster homes in the rural countryside. But even as fifteen-year-old Emmy Downtree and her much younger sister Julia find refuge in a charming Cotswold cottage, Emmy’s burning ambition to return to the city and apprentice with a fashion designer pits her against Julia’s profound need for her sister’s presence. Acting at cross purposes just as the Luftwaffe rains down its terrible destruction, the sisters are cruelly separated, and their lives are transformed…
About the author: A native of San Diego, Susan Meissner is a former managing editor of a weekly newspaper and an award-winning columnist. She has published fifteen novels with New American Library, Harvest House, and WaterBrook, divisions of Penguin Random House. She lives in San Diego with her husband and has four grown children.
Why I read this book: because when I learned one of my best-liked authors (A Seahorse in the Thames is a fave) was releasing a new novel, I couldn’t resist.
First impressions: Thumbs up on a cover that should appeal to any Anglophile, and an attention-winning start to the story.
If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG
Reminds me of… Sarah’s Key, only not so grim
Will especially appeal to… female connoisseurs of World War II-era histfic
This story matters because…it reminds of that we must forgive ourselves for being able to make only our own choices and no one else’s.
My take: I have always enjoyed Susan Meissner’s seemingly effortless prose–seemingly being key, as I know full-well it’s not really. Her narrative flows as smoothly as the silk from which Emmy dreams of fashioning her bridal dresses.
The more I read, the more I liked this novel–especially the last third, when all the pieces of what turned out to be a very complicated jigsaw puzzle came together, resulting in an unusual degree of resonance. I also appreciated the light touch on faith issues, which lends crossover appeal to both mainstream and Christian readers.
In this story, I found that Meissner maintained a certain narrative distance–as a reader, I didn’t inhabit the skin of her characters like I might have were it written in a deep-POV (point of view) style. This isn’t a criticism, only an observation. In fact, given the story’s range, the bulk of which takes place over a span of a couple of decades, it was probably necessary.
The fruit of the author’s research is more than impressive, and I’m grateful for her deeper insights into a truly fascinating era. Honestly, will writers ever finish plumbing its depths? Unlikely. I feel especially enlightened on the subject of London’s evacuation of children. It was a period in modern world history that managed to be both hopeful and heartrending–and Meissner does a marvelous job of capturing both.
[Tweet “Journey from present day to World War II England as 2 sisters are separated by the chaos of war @SusanMeissner”]
Thanks to New American Library/Penguin for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.
After words: *A word about my genre description: Though this novel is mainly histfic, it is framed by a brief contemporary story line, an increasingly popular story device Meissner has used before. Given its success, I expect we’ll be seeing more of this structure from both her and other writers.
At the end of the book, I found the “Conversation with Susan Meissner” particularly worthwhile. One thing she remarks on is the tendency to underestimate hardships, once they have passed, that previous generations have endured–and the danger that lies therein of missing important lessons and stories that really should be passed along to younger generations. From your own family history, can you recall a time when this has happened? What would you do to correct this tendency, moving forward?