Summer Reading: The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

Okay, so school’s out, it’s warmed up (here in Minnesota where we wait for such things), and you’re feeling languid. You need a good book.

So, think of this blog as one of those times when someone says, “Psst! You have to read this.” And then a book with the spine already cracked is pressed into your hands with a sense of urgency, a secret command that you know you’ll obey.

My friend Sonja pressed Sarah Blake’s The Postmistress into my hands a couple of weeks ago along with the question, “Are you reading anything right now? I loved this.” At least, I think that’s what she said, given that it was the end of the school year and we were both running ourselves silly with kids’ activities and graduation party plans and dreams of grilled dinners under hot evening skies. What I am clear about is Sonja’s belief that this book was worth reading, that it would make me pay attention.

And it did. Enough that I have to pass it on to you.

The Postmistress is written with a poet’s touch. The language is beautiful, the descriptions are deadly accurate without giving it all away. The story, set in 1940-41, revolves around three women whose lives are altered because of the events in World War II Europe and how those around them came to eventually believe the stories of Jews being rounded up by the Nazis. The story asks the hard questions of whether one should do more than bear witness in a time of war, what it means to leave those who depend on you to go help someone else, how people deal with loss and carry on. It asks what it really is to be a hero. Do you go on with your insular daily life when people elsewhere are being bombed into oblivion?

The three women in the story see World War II through very different lenses. One is a doctor’s wife and she doesn’t fully understand when he is determined to go to England to help victims of the Blitz. One is the postmaster of the small town where the doctor and his wife have their home, and she is the nonjudgmental funnel for all news that comes to her fellow townspeople. The third woman is a journalist who goes to Europe and sees people being rounded up, sees their lives taken from them, and tries to collect voices so that Americans will be compelled to do something. These women could be plopped right down into our own era, with different wars but similar atrocities, similar questions about what it all means and what our responsibilities are.

Even though the topic is heavier than standard summer beach reading, the beautifully-written story is one that will pull you in on a summer afternoon. Go read it.


2 comments

  1. I've added this to me Neverending-To-Be-Read-List. I'm sure that if I'd seen the cover, I wouldn't have read more than the title and assumed it was “merely” a romance, which is not to say that romance novels aren't lovely (I'm currently reading my way through Austen) but they are not my typical choice. Thanks for sharing your review.

  2. Hi Satia –

    I have one of those never-ending lists of books, too. And piles of books in my office that call my name with growing insistence. Life is clearly too short to read it all. Sigh.


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