The Postmistress

Sarah Blake
Penguin; £12.99

THE Postmistress is published to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the Blitz. On September 7, 1940, the first real air raid of the London Blitz caused 1,000 fires, 430 deaths and 1,600 injuries.

The raid was carried out by 300 Nazi bombers accompanied by 600 fighter planes. Regular bombing of London continued until May 10, 1941 when the worst bombing raid left 1,500 dead and 1,800 injured. Most hospitals, almost all major mainline stations as well as the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and St James’s Palace were badly damaged.

This novel is a beautifully-written narrative about ordinary people trying to live their lives in the midst of the carnage and mayhem of war. Frankie Baird is the first woman to report the Blitz to her US compatriots who seem oblivious to what is happening in Europe. She also travels on trains through Europe, recording the voices of ordinary Jews trying to flee from the horror.

In Franklin, Massachusetts, postmistress Iris James listens to Frankie’s broadcasts and fears the war is about to spread to her town. Also listening to the broadcasts are Dr Will Fitch and his wife, Emma. The tragic death of one of his patients leads Will to leave the pregnant Emma to offer his medical skills in London. In a time when letters are of great importance, two are central to the story and link the three women. One is entrusted to Iris by Will before he leaves for England; the other is carried by Frankie from England to Massachusetts. Only one is delivered.

Sarah Blake has written that the central question of the novel is — how do you bear (in every sense of the word) the news? She wanted to tell the war story that lies around the edges of photographs or at the end of the newspaper account; the story of ordinary people. In this, her first novel, she has certainly succeeded.


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