Summary and book reviews of The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

The Postmistress

By Sarah Blake

The Postmistress
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2010,
    336 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2011,
    384 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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About this Book

Book Summary

Those who carry the truth sometimes bear a terrible burden...

Filled with stunning parallels to today's world, The Postmistress is a sweeping novel about the loss of innocence of two extraordinary women-and of two countries torn apart by war.

On the eve of the United States's entrance into World War II in 1940, Iris James, the postmistress of Franklin, a small town on Cape Cod, does the unthinkable: She doesn't deliver a letter.

In London, American radio gal Frankie Bard is working with Edward R. Murrow, reporting on the Blitz. One night in a bomb shelter, she meets a doctor from Cape Cod with a letter in his pocket, a letter Frankie vows to deliver when she returns from Germany and France, where she is to record the stories of war refugees desperately trying to escape.

The residents of Franklin think the war can't touch them - but as Frankie's radio broadcasts air, some know that the war is indeed coming. And when Frankie arrives at their doorstep, the two stories collide in a way no one could have foreseen.

The Postmistress is an unforgettable tale of the secrets we must bear, or bury. It is about what happens to love during war­time, when those we cherish leave. And how every story - of love or war - is about looking left when we should have been looking right.

Fall
1940

It began, as it often does, with a woman putting her ducks in a row.

It had occurred to Iris a few weeks back— at the height of summer when tourists jammed the post office with their oiled bodies and their scattered, childish vacation glee— that if what she thought were going to happen was going to, she ought to be prepared. She ought, really oughtn’t she, to be ready to show Harry that though she was forty, as old as the century, he would be the first. The very first. And she had always put more stock in words set down on a clean white piece of paper than any sort of talk. Talk was—

“Right,” said the doctor, turning away to wash his hands.

Iris supposed she was meant to get up and get dressed while his back was turned, but she had not had the foresight to wear a skirt, thinking instead that her blue dress was the thing for this appointment, and no matter how thorough a man Dr. Broad was, he’d have turned around from the sink long ...

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About This Book

Those who carry the truth sometimes bear a terrible weight…

It is 1940. While war is raging in Europe, in the United States President Roosevelt promises he won't send American boys over to fight.

Iris James is the postmistress and spinster of Franklin, Massachusetts, a small town on Cape Cod. Iris knows a lot more about the townspeople that she will ever say. She knows that Emma Trask has come to marry the town's young doctor. She knows that Harry Vale, the town's mechanic, inspects the ocean from the tower of the town hall, searching in vain for German U-Boats he is certain will come. Iris firmly believes that her job is to deliver and keep people's secrets, to pass along the news of love ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Frankie's tale lingered in my mind long after I turned the last page. Indeed, the portions of the narrative that relate her experiences are some of the best and most moving writing I've encountered in quite some time... While Blake's writing is beautiful throughout, the plot and characters are somewhat uneven... [A few] flaws aside, The Postmistress is definitely worth reading. Blake's writing is rich and evocative, and much of the book is deeply affecting and though-provoking. Historical fiction fans in particular will find the novel illuminating, and it is likely to become a popular choice for book clubs.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review Members Only (1069 words).

Media Reviews
The Washington Post - Chris Bohjalian

Blake... does have a [good] story to tell, though occasionally it gets lost amid her efforts to ratchet up the drama.

Christian Science Monitor

Unfortunately, there have been an awful lot of books about World War II, and The Postmistress, while intelligent and well meaning, doesn’t ultimately have much new to add... the dialogue lacks snap... and [Blake] engages in expository overload that’s really not needed for such a well-known tale.

Entertainment Weekly

[L]ikely be snapped up by book clubs. There's both exquisite pain and pleasure to be found in these pages, which jump from the mass devastation in Europe to the intimate heartaches of an American small town....A-

USA Today

The Postmistress possesses the sentimental quaintness of the The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, but its spark comes from its enduring message about the need for humanity to step up and fight anyone and anything that threatens our fragile moral code.

Publishers Weekly

Blake captures two different worlds...with a deft sense of character and plot, and a perfect willingness to take on big, complex questions, such as the merits of truth and truth-telling in wartime.

Kirkus Reviews

The loose ends that plague every tale and the fractional nature of knowing are the central themes of this narrative, which plays with the idea of storytelling. Quietly effective work from first novelist Blake.

Booklist

Starred Review. Matching harrowing action with reflection, romance with pathos, Blake’s emotional saga of conscience and genocide is poised to become a best-seller of the highest echelon.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Even readers who don't think they like historical novels will love this one and talk it up to their friends. Highly recommended for all fans of beautifully wrought fiction.

Reader Reviews
Valerie F.

Disappointing
I wanted to like this book, especially because the premise seemed to have a lot of potential and was interesting in theory. Unfortunately, I don't think the author did well with it all, taking on a bit too much and not doing much with it after all. ...   Read More

Aprile G

Promise unfulfilled
The Postmistress started with promise--the first chapter crackled with sharply described characters and situations, and set up the expectation of an engaging story. Unfortunately, this made the book's sloppy descent, with predictable turns, murky ...   Read More

Suzanne G.

A Winner!
I really enjoyed this book. With three main characters but each so different, the meshing of these three people during WWII is very satisfactory. Humor, particularly with Iris and her doctor, is subtle, and that special scene actually made me laugh ...   Read More

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The Blitz
Following Hitler's invasion of Poland in September 1939, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. After Poland and France surrendered, German intelligence sources believed that the British, too, were close to capitulation after their retreat from Dunkirk in battle between the Allies and Germany, and that a strategy similar to the heavy shelling and bombing used against Poland would likewise lead to a quick victory. The first attacks by the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) in the summer of 1940 focused on destroying the British Royal Airforce (RAF) by bombing airfields and RAF factories.

On August 25 1940, Luftwaffe bombers drifted off course from their military targets on the outskirts of London, and dropped bombs in...

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