A Star for Mrs. Blake
Though it’s been thirteen years since her son Sammy died at Verdun, Cora Blake still feels the sting of the decision to bury him in faraway France rather than bring him home to Maine. When the U.S. Government offers to send Cora to France to visit her son’s grave, she jumps at the chance, not only to find some closure but also to see something of the world that Sammy saw during the war. She joins the Gold Star Mothers traveling to France, finding comfort in friendships with four of the women, all from different backgrounds, but all united in their grief.
In France, Cora meets Griffin, an American journalist who lost part of his face while covering the war too close to the front line. He no longer writes, but wallows in self-pity, wearing a tin mask that is slowly taking his life. In Cora, Griffin sees a courage that he wishes he could find for himself. In Griffin, she sees a way to touch a life beyond her little corner of Maine.
This is a novel about a little-known slice of World War One history, that of the 6,693 Gold Star Mothers who traveled from America to their sons’ graves in France. Smith writes with great depth of detail and of emotion, giving voice to these women. At times her effort to share so many stories threatens to work against her. She introduces so many characters and narrators as to leave the reader feeling occasionally disconnected. The moment the reader is deep into one character’s story, the narrator has changed. Still, the reader who can keep up with these many shifts in character, will find an interesting cast to narrate this forgotten history.