The Postmistress

Written by Sarah Blake
Review by Ann Oughton

This atmospheric novel follows the intersecting lives of three American women during 1940 and 1941. Iris James is the postmaster (she doesn’t believe in the term postmistress) of Franklin, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. Emma Trask is a new arrival in town: she has just married Franklin’s doctor. And Frankie Bard is in London, broadcasting about the Blitz with Edward R. Murrow.

Iris takes very seriously her role as the government representative who acts as a conduit in making sure that people receive their mail. Emma, who has no one else in the world, is delighted to be cherished by her new husband. And Frankie, despite the terrifying conditions, is energized by being able to observe and report on the fortitude of Londoners. But things soon start to unravel. Emma’s husband’s life changes course after a tragedy with a patient, and Iris breaks her code of ethics by failing to deliver a letter. Frankie heads off to the Continent to witness and to record the voices of those who have been dispossessed, those who find their very lives at risk. Frankie’s broadcasts both intrigue and repel Iris and Emma, and then Frankie appears in person in Franklin to deliver devastating news.

The author successfully paints a portrait of small town America; many don’t want to acknowledge that what is happening in Europe may soon affect them, despite their paranoia about their supposed enemies. A few realize what is coming but make little headway in convincing others. The scenes set in London vividly mix the people’s determination with tragedy. Across the Channel, the desperation of the Jews that Frankie interviews is palpable. The plot presents a time often written about in a fresh and most engaging manner. Highly recommended.