For a number of reasons, I liked The Postmistress by Sarah Blake. It's an intense story about three women during the early years of WWII – Iris, a postmistress on Cape Cod; Emma, the young wife of a doctor who goes to London to help out during the bombings in 1941; and Frankie, a young American radio journalist doing war dispatches from Europe. These three women's stories together form the foundation of this book about war and personal duty/responsibility.
What I liked:
First, Blake is a very elegant writer. Her prose is understated and very powerful. She got into the heads of these three very different women, and made them sympathetic and relatable.
Second, The Postmistress is very powerful. There were some very difficult wartime scenes that I found myself racing through to get them over with because they were just that painful to read. Blake's depiction of desperate and displaced Europeans – mostly Jews – trying to get onto trains to take them anywhere they could go, was heartbreaking. And the scenes of young children losing their parents, whether on the Cape, London, or under the Gestapo's militant eye, will stay with me for a long time.
Third, The Postmistress is thought-provoking and relevant to our lives today, where wars are fought in far-away places and barely impact daily life. Don't we, as Americans, have a responsibility, simply, to pay attention? Why is it so easy to ignore the atrocities that we can't really see?
Now to what I didn't like as much about The Postmistress. I understand that Frankie and Iris were both postmistresses of sort, in that they were both entrusted with messages that they were duty-bound to deliver, but didn't. I found, though, that the exchanges between Frankie and Iris toward the end of the book rang hollow. There was too much pondering and questioning, which I just couldn't see these two women engaging in.
Second, I was disappointed in Frankie. How could she travel those trains in Europe, recording those doomed yet cautiously hopeful voices, and not figure out how to share them with her listeners? Her total shutdown at the end of the book and her subsequent withdrawal from broadcasting seemed out of character, and was immensely frustrating. Maybe Blake felt that she couldn't take liberties with history by broadcasting the voices and making Americans aware of what was happening, for in reality, we turned a blind eye for too many years.
Finally, The Postmistress could have used a little more editing. It got repetitive in places, especially Frankie's chapters. By the end, we knew what she had witnessed in Europe and didn't need to hear it over and over.
In all, I really liked this book. It's not perfect, but it is a very good read, and was definitely worth my time. I was fortunate to attend a Q&A with Sarah Blake about The Postmistress earlier this year here in DC – here is my writeup.
Hi FTC! Guess what? I bought this book with my own hard-earned cash.