I Gave My Heart to Know This

Written by Ellen Baker
Review by Pamela Ferrell Ortega

This multigenerational saga takes us from the female shipbuilding welders of Rosie the Riveter fame during World War II to the great-granddaughter of one of them. Three women, Grace, Lena, and Lena’s mother, Violet, meet and become fast friends at a Superior, Wisconsin, shipyard where they have been trained as welders. The beautiful Grace, nicknamed “Hollywood,” already has a sweetheart, Alex, fighting in the war, but Lena is determined that Grace correspond with Lena’s twin, Derrick, also in the war. Although they never actually meet, Grace and Derrick fall in love. Alas, Alex is killed, and Derrick is listed MIA. Lena refuses to believe he’s dead, and her continuing obsession with her missing brother leads to psychosis, possible murder, and longstanding discord and treachery to both Violet and Grace.

Fast forward to 1999 and enter Julia, the great-granddaughter of Violet. Beset by her own personal problems, Julia is house-sitting for her aunt at the same farmhouse where Violet lived and gave birth to Lena and Derrick in the 1920s. The novel intersperses Julia’s life with her finding old letters from the war years and unraveling the mysteries of the three women’s lives during the years surrounding World War II. It’s a somber read, well written, but complicated with many characters, several of whom who were “lost,” but who unrealistically turn up again as happy senior citizens – all leading to a very convenient happy ending.