Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Baker's Dozen of Reviews: Day Five--I'll Be Seeing You

I’ll Be Seeing You
By Suzanne Hayes 
and Loretta Nyhan
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Release Date: May 28, 2013

It is mid-January, 1943, when Gloria Whitehall, a twenty-three-year-old in Rockport, Massachusetts, pregnant with her second child, writes her first letter to her new pen-pal, Marguerite “Rita” Vincenzo, an almost forty-one-year-old wife of a biology professor turned Army medic. Glory’s husband is an army staff sergeant in basic training. Rita’s husband is already in Tunisia, and her eighteen-year-old son is in basic training with the Navy. The only thing the two women have in common is their status as military wives in a time of war. They belong to different generations, different social classes, and different geographical regions. Glory’s home in Rockport was her parents’ summer home; it is one of three homes she inherited from them. Rita and her husband Sal are first-generation Americans from Chicago, Her parents were German immigrants; his were Italian. Their lifestyle is solidly middle-class. 

Yet over the almost three and a half years that these women exchange letters in which they share their pasts and their present, their fears and their hopes, their failures and their triumphs, their friends and their families, a rare and powerful friendship develops. They become a lifeline for one another, offering through their letters honesty, acceptance, and emotional sustenance.  Their friendship makes both women braver, wiser, and more resilient. The letters allow the reader to share the forging of this extraordinary friendship and to meet through Glory and Rita’s words, and occasionally through others’ letters, the other people who fill their lives.

I’ll Be Seeing You is an extraordinary book. It brings World War II on the American home front vividly to life. The details that Glory and Rita share remind the reader of the fear and loneliness those left behind experienced, of the terror the sight of a telegram delivery struck in their hearts, and of the courage they displayed by getting on with life and doing all they could for the war effort. The recipes they share show how people coped with rationing, and reminders of the scarcity of everything from women’s stockings to children’s toys demonstrate how war affected every aspect of life.

Most of all, the novel celebrates the power of women’s friendship to strengthen, enrich, and transform the lives of women blessed to find friend of the heart and form bonds of intimacy that bridge all differences of age, class, and place.

This is an extraordinary book, made more so by the fact that the two women who wrote it did so through correspondence without ever meeting face-to-face. I love epistolary novels, and this one may be my favorite since Lee Smith’s Fair and Tender Ladies in 1993. If you like women’s fiction that touches the heart and illuminates your understanding of what it means to live with courage and compassion for others and for yourself, I highly recommend I’ll Be Seeing You.

I’m happy to see more books being written about the World War II era. What historical period would you like to see more of in fiction?

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