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BUY THIS BOOK: The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

In The Postmistress, Sarah Blake’s illuminating novel set in 1940, the lives of three women are brought together by a relationship to one man, a young doctor, Will Fitch. Emma Trask Fitch is Will’s new bride and her marriage to Will is the first real security she’s had since her parents died when she was young. She was lost before Will; she didn’t feel as if she had an identity. But now she is young Doctor Fitch’s wife and folks see her as if she matters. Even more Will loves her and she loves him and this is everything. Until tragedy strikes and Will is plunged into a dark night of the soul where he feels the only remedy is to leave Emma, leave their cozy home in the relative safety of small town Michigan and offer his services as a doctor in London at a time when London is under siege by the Germans, when frantic, terrified dashes into underground “funk” holes to escape the infernal, incessant bombing is the way life is lived, the way it goes on--if it goes on. In his lengthening absence, Emma is disconsolate. She begins a ritual of going daily to the post office to retrieve Will’s letters. Iris James, postmistress, watches Emma carefully. Iris is a woman who is governed by order, who takes the distribution of the mail and the truth with an equally balanced sense of responsibility, but that changes when she comes across a letter that contains critical information that she chooses to hide. As a reporter, Frankie Bard shares Iris’s sense of moral duty and obligation to the truth. Both Emma and Iris tune in regularly to hear Frankie’s broadcasts that air from London where she was sent from America to report on the Blitz. It’s in London that Frankie meets Will and hears about Emma and through him, Frankie senses Emma’s heartbreak.

In fact Frankie is learning more than she cares to about war-time heartbreak. On assignment, she leaves London to ride the European refugee trains where she interviews families, parents and their children who are displaced and terrified. She watches in shock as they are dragged from the railcars over and over without explanation. To go where? What is being done to them? They tell their stories to Frankie, but as an American, she is prevented from knowing the end for them and worse, she can’t help them. It flies in the face of all that Frankie has been trained to believe in, to report--by no less a historic personage than Ed Murrow. She grows increasingly more angry and disillusioned that as a war correspondent, she is continually thwarted in her duty to follow her story to its end. She returns to the States in frustration carrying the weight of what she has seen and felt and also a letter from Will Fitch for Emma. The letter came into Frankie’s possession through an odd twist and like Iris, the postmistress, Frankie, too, will stand at a crossroads, hunting for the right way to proceed, hunting yet again for the right ending.

This isn’t a novel of war that you might anticipate it would be or that you have encountered before. It is finely focused on the lives of three women and the nature of one’s responsibility with regard to the truth--whether to tell it and how much. That said, the title, The Postmistress, is a little misleading. While Postmistress Iris James plays a major part, the story truly centers on Frankie Bard, a most aptly named and intrepid war correspondent in a time when female correspondents were a distinct minority. Iris and Frankie’s occupations alone separate this novel from the pack and make it interesting.

But this story illustrates another theme as well that is more timeless, that of the way in which ordinary life goes on . . . people shop, they read and listen to the radio even as war rages in other parts of the world. Frankie Bard thinks it is out of arrogance and/or ignorance, even indifference, but eventually, she concludes it is in defense of the perhaps deeper, more brutal truth that people simply can’t face the horror of war. As individuals, they feel they can’t stop it, fix it or make it better and so they ignore it.

The Postmistress is a very fine, thought provoking read. For fans of The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, you might like to read her interview with Sarah Blake at Sarah's Amazon detail page and for more interviews and information visit Sarah Blake's website.


Joni Rodgers said…
Excellent review, Bobbi. I really loved the characters in this book, and she is a terrific writer.

Yes! Buy it, people, buy it. And think hard about how it applies to American life today.

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