The Air Raid Book Club

Written by Annie Lyons
Review by Gail M. Murray

Lyons draws on her experience as a bookseller and her love of reading in this story set in her hometown area of South East London, creating a rich picture of everyday life in war-torn Britain during 1938-1947. Newly widowed bookshop owner, sixty-year-old Gertie Bingham, is retreating from life, haunted by the death of her beloved husband, Harry. Hitler has begun his persecution of German Jews. Charles Ashford, Harry’s best friend, organizing a rescue of Jewish children as part of the Kindertransport, convinces the childless Gertie to foster a child. Prior to the outbreak of war, almost 10,000 Jewish children found safety in Britain, often the only members of their family to survive the Holocaust. When fifteen-year-old Hedy Fischer arrives from Munich, it’s Gertie’s lovable black Labrador, Hemingway, who first relates to the stubborn teen. Gradually Gertie and Hedy bond over a shared love of books, especially Jane Eyre.

Throughout the novel, we watch Hedy evolve into a thoughtful young woman. Amid the relentless bombing of the Blitz, Hedy and Gertie organize the Air Raid Book Club, providing solace, escape, and a sense of normalcy to the lives of her neighbors and rekindling a sense of purpose in our heroine. People read during the nightly blackouts, later discussing the books in the bomb shelter. This is reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society set in Nazi-occupied Guernsey. In both novels, eclectic and endearing characters offer each other strength and encouragement. In spite of the war, life goes on with people finding love and getting married. When Gertie’s shop is damaged by an incendiary, her patrons rally.

Pithy quotes by classic authors from Dickens to Tennyson introduce each chapter. Lyons has given her readers a sensitive, heartwarming examination of human connections, finding light in the darkness. I especially liked the many literary references and the buoyant ending.