Letters Across the Sea

Written by Genevieve Graham
Review by Trish MacEnulty

This moving story revolves around several little-known historical events. The first occurs in Toronto in 1933. The Great Depression is in full swing, and Molly Ryan, an Irish Catholic girl who aspires to be a journalist, has had to drop out of school to help support her family. Things get complicated when she develops feelings for her best friend’s older brother, Max Dreyfuss. The two families have been friends and neighbors for years, but the Dreyfuss family is Jewish, and suddenly being a Jew in Toronto is asking for trouble. Everywhere, signs of incipient Nazism are popping up. Store owners refuse to serve Jews. Young men form gangs and foment violence. Like Romeo and Juliet, Molly and Max try to negotiate the rising tensions, but things come to a head in a riot, when Molly’s father is critically injured, destroying their hopes for happiness.

Readers in the United States may be shocked to learn of the large number of Nazi sympathizers in Canada at the time. Even more shocking is the story of the Battle of Hong Kong in 1941, when about two thousand Canadian soldiers are sent to defend Hong Kong, unaware they are going on a suicide mission. Heavily outnumbered by the Japanese, the Canadian forces are overwhelmed, and Max becomes a prisoner of war. Meanwhile, Molly fulfills her dream of being a journalist and covers the war at home, including the internment of Japanese-Canadian citizens. But she hasn’t forgotten Max and the one brief kiss they shared.

This is an emotional story about bigotry, familial and romantic love, war, and the awful things people do to one another. Written in an accessible style and meticulously researched, Letters Across the Sea will appeal to a wide audience and enlighten readers about historical events that should never be forgotten.