Oh, how I love Elizabeth Berg books! So warm and satisfying, usually bittersweet and a little melancholy. This one was a bit different from her others in that it is historical. Set during WWII it is the story of two sisters (Kitty and Louise) and their sweethearts (Michael, Julian, and Hank). Rich with details of USO dances, women working in factories, a family of 8 in a tiny house (3 sisters, 3 brothers), and other details of life on the homefront. Actually, there are also many details of the men’s service overseas (in both the Pacific and European theaters of war). A central part of the story is the letters the sisters write every night to not only their sweethearts, but also to various men they meet at the dances. These letters are where the girls pour out their hearts and relationships flourish and wither. The thing about a war novel is that you know at least one of the characters is not going to make it home–it’s just a matter of which one. So there you are getting attached to characters and knowing someone is going to die. In this novel when that happens it’s sad, but what I found even sadder was the very end which lets you know how all their lives turn out. I simply cannot get over the sisterly sacrifice that was made.
I really enjoyed this-a quick read, not a very thick book, daily life of the 1940s really came alive. It made me think about what a big part of that war letter writing was. The girls would receive up to 12 letters a day, and write that many each night! There was a public campaign to encourage it and all the men write back about how much they cherish any letter telling them about home. So here we are in war again, yet no one I know writes to soldiers overseas. Due to internet, webcams, and email? Prevalence of media? Or because we don’t go to dances and meet servicemen? Interesting to think about because I’m sure any soldier far from home still cherishes letters and pictures from home.
I couldn’t help but remember two other favorite WWII era books and must recommend them:
Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy–wonderfully thick novel telling the story of five(?) different women all participating in the war in some different way. Absolutely engrossing, realistic, and intriguing. The two that stick with me the most are the women who become a spy and an airplane pilot.
Land Girls by Angela Huth –British girls who worked in the land army, ie on farms in the country while the men were off fighting. They made this a movie, which was not as good as the book.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Goodnight, Mr. Tom, a moving and emotional story about a young boy evacuated from London who stays with a gruff old man. Of course they bond and grow to love each other and then the boy is forced to return to his abusive mother. A children’s/YA book, but you have to have a heart made of steel not to love it.