The Passengers is an intergenerational historical novel set in both the tail end of World War Two and the present day. It is Australian-based Limprecht’s third book. Her other novels, What Was Left and Long Bay, feature women in situations where they feel trapped. The Passengers doesn’t disappoint on that front. Written entirely in first person from the points of view of two female members of the same family, seventy years apart, it explores the complexity of family relationships and changing nature of expectations placed on women, by themselves and others. It covers a fascinating era of Australian/US history: that of the 15,000 Australian women who married US military personnel and were repatriated to the US under Operation War Bride.
Hannah and her grandmother Sarah are on a cruise ship leaving the US for Sydney. Sarah, a war bride, hasn’t returned to her homeland since she left in 1945. Hannah is the same age her grandmother was when she made the original journey. She’s a complicated, driven character with her own inner demons and secrets. We gain more insight into them as the journey progresses.
Sarah made the long journey to the States after a hasty wartime marriage, leaving her family and friends behind. She discovers that she’s unprepared and ill equipped for life on her husband’s parents’ tobacco farm. Isolated and alone, her husband diminished by his war experience, she’s forced to confront the reality of the choice she made. Her subsequent actions cast a long shadow over the rest of her life and that of her family.
Limprecht could have settled for writing a compelling novel about the lives of war brides, but by juxtaposing the past and present stories of Sarah and her granddaughter, we have a richer insight into the challenges they faced as they battled adversity to establish a sense of purpose and identity.