By Fred Delkin
Before television ruled as the planet’s primary news source, there was radio, which delivered absorbing descriptions and sounds from the horror that was World War II. Novelist Sarah Blake has crafted a just published work, The Postmistress (Feb. 2012, Berkley Publishing, NYC). Readers are projected into dual scenarios…Edward R. Murrow’s live broadcast coverage of the London
Blitz and the life of American residents of Cape Cod, an ocean apart from the drama tearing Europe apart. A pair of intrepid women are the lead protagonists…Murrow”s reporter Frankie Bard and the postmistress Iris James of Franklin, MA.
It takes a talented wordsmith to simultaneously weave these plots together, and Blake does just that. We studied Murrow, a Washington State University graduate, when we were prepping for a communications career, and the author’s research draws an unforgettable portrait. Reporter Bard’s interviews with residents of war-torn Europe evoke the misery of Nazi domination. The village postmistress walks on stage with the receipt of letters from an American doctor who left his wife behind when he volunteered to serve in a London hospital. Bard met him in a London air raid shelter, then witnessed his traffic death and took it upon herself to locate his pregnant widow back on Cape Cod.
That’s a very brief summation of the plot elements. The reader will alternately shudder and exult with the finely drawn characters inhabiting these pages. Both radio and the written word, in our opinion, can trump what broadcast visuals can contribute to our imagination, as this novel demonstrates. Delve into it and relive the summer of 1941 as the world’s worst conflict in history dealt death, poverty and persecution to Europe’s millions while Americans worried that neutrality was rapidly shrinking as an alternative to involvement in the fray.
The interaction and the thoughts of the characters herein are totally absorbing and believable. You can sense the fear of German U-boats invading our waters, the helplessness of Nazi prey, the courage of British bombing victims and the romantic emotions that engulf the key players.
This is a literary excursion that is truly memorable.