Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

The novel opens with the question, "What would you think of a postmistress who chose not to deliver the mail?" It is question that engages the reader and gives pause for thought. At first I was incensed that someone would do this, but then I realized that there must be a reasonable back story. Set in the small village of Franklin on Cape Cod, London and other venues in Europe, The Postmistress is the story of Frankie Bard, a reporter who works with Edward R. Murrow in London, Emma Fitch, newly wed wife of Franklin's doctor, and Iris James, the postmistress and how their lives become intertwined.

The strength of the novel is in the character development, the way Blake creates independent individuals who are also products of their time. I can picture Iris in her uniform carefully sorting and delivering mail. How is it that she didn't carry out her duty? Emma is so quiet, so innocent. She keeps to herself after Will has gone to London to regain the confidence and put off the guilt he feels after a devastating tragedy. She endures the day to day life opening herself to few who look to support her. Frankie is adventurous and outspoken. Her radio broadcasts are filled with human interest at the same time urging those to listen and be aware of the world situation even though a listener might not be directly affected. Her call to action against the Germans falls, for the most part, on deaf ears. As she travels throughout Germany, France, and Spain she interviews and records voices of refugees and Jews who are being forced to relocate. Their stories are deeply touching, but we still turned away from help.

There is also a quiet to the book, a poignancy that allows the reader to contemplate the action that happens. Whether it is Iris dealing with a moral dilemma, Emma waiting for letters from Will or Frankie comforting a young child, the reader is deeply affected. As the seasons and pages turned, the realization that war is horrible on so many fronts stands out to the reader and becomes the real message of the book.

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