The Major’s Daughter
Francis brings to light a little-known part of World War II history – a prisoner-of-war camp in the small town of Stark, New Hampshire. The camp is run by Major John Brennan, and serving as translator is his daughter, Collie. Brennan keeps the camp humane; the men are put to work shoring up the logging industry. Collie, as one of the few women on site, attracts Augustus Wahrlich, a young Austrian prisoner who writes poetry and plays piano. This is no Harlequin novel against the backdrop of war, though. Collie and August’s love is both a blessing and an anxiety. Francis contrasts Collie’s story with the woes of her college friend, Estelle. Estelle, drawn to Mr. Kamal, the Indian owner of the flower shop in her hometown in Ohio, is not brave enough to flout convention and so settles for marriage and motherhood with a more sensible choice.
The nuances of war are explored. August and other soldiers who aren’t Nazis suffer midnight beatings from the more vicious Nazis. When the town’s only doctor is unavailable, Collie takes a doctor POW out of camp to try to save her young friend from deadly influenza. Other prisoners are aware of August and Collie’s feelings for each other, but no one exposes them. Her father disapproves but doesn’t punish her. No punishment could be greater than the inevitable tragic end to their story. I hesitate to write that but feel that it’s not a spoiler, that an unhappy end is telegraphed simply by the description “a love story between an American woman and a German POW.” I slowed the pace of my reading to forestall the end, but it had to come, and Francis is too good a writer not to deserve the courtesy of seeing it through.