When We Meet Again
British book publishers during World War II had to contend, not only with the normal uncertainties of the trade, but with paper rationing, personnel shortages, and a war-weary readership uninterested in “literary” offerings. The war presented opportunities for women to enter the profession, however, and Alice Cotton is enjoying a rewarding and fast-rising career as a young editor for Partridge Press when she becomes pregnant after a disastrous affair with her boss’s son.
Beecham movingly renders Alice’s horror when she discovers that her newborn daughter has been taken by her religious-fanatic mother and sold to “baby farmers.” This practice, which modern readers might think is a quaint artifact of Victorian operettas, was actually a raging social problem during World War II, as social services deteriorated for lack of personnel and funding, and desperate childless and bereaved couples sought to rebuild their families.
Alice’s frantic search for her daughter is paralleled by a second point of view character, Theo Bloom, a young editor at Partridge’s New York office, who travels from New York to London to help rescue the financially fragile London arm of the business. His friendship with Alice develops naturally and sweetly, and helps give the reader a sense of who she is when she’s not traumatized by the loss of her child.
Parallel characters always run the risk of creating an unbelievable plot, as their intersections often rely on coincidences and too-tidy decisions. This novel does fall prey to such convenient plot turns, but the characters are likeable enough and the charms of daily life in 1943 London, seen through the kindhearted Theo’s eyes, make up for any weaknesses in realism. The unusual subject of baby-farming makes this well-told story stand out from the current glut of World War II novels.