Tuesday, April 3, 2012
I rarely begin reading a book without a recommendation or at least a review, but I picked up The Postmistress by Sarah Blake on audio at the library out of desperation (unable to face my daily commute without the option of a book.) I started off slowly at first and had to back up to the beginning when I realized there were actually three main female characters, not one. The main character (at least in my opinion) was not Iris, the female postmaster in Franklin, Massachusetts, a small coastal town not far from Boston, but Frankie Bard, an American journalist who leaves the U.S. for London, reporting alongside Edward R. Murrow. The third woman in the story, Emma Fitch is the petite young bride of the town's doctor, who decides to leave home and serve in a London hospital after losing a mother during a home birth.
Told as a flashback by Bard, the book examines the ethics of withholding the mail, particularly when an ill-timed letter may bring incomplete information. Naturally, Iris James inhabits the central location of the book, in some way touching everything that happens to the locals of the small town and privy to all its secrets.
Frankie Bard has to walk the thin line between clean, impartial reporting and emotioanl editorializing. Much of the story--at least that outside of Franklin--is set in London during the blitz. Blake presents an unsettling view of the random death and destruction, the fear during the German bombings. Bard also becomes concerned about the treatment of the Jews, insistent on learning more in order to inform Americans, a mission that takes her closer than is safe or comfortable as she travels across Europe, talking to the refugees trying to flee their homes for safety.
Blake also addresses the anti-German sentiment that targets an Austrian Jew in town--called "the Kraut" by the locals, unaware of his story and suspecting him of espionage and the genuine fear on American soil of a German attack on the mainland.
Blake manages to tell an female side to the war while remaining credible. In her Afterward, she even acknowledges small liberties she takes with her timeline in order to tell the story. The resulting story not only made me aware of some other complex angles of the war, but to consider the role of the post office in American life.