What happens when two thirtysomething siblings relive the summer reading programs of their youth in an all-out battle of the books? The race is on as they read by the rules and keep tally on their logs to see who will be the ultimate reader by Labor Day 2010.

August 7, 2010

The Postmistress, Sarah Blake

I've got a bit of a fascination with the postal system, or so I've been told. I think it's perfectly normal to anticipate the mail carrier, race to see what has been delivered, and think about all the steps that have taken place to ensure its safe arrival. I'm probably the only person not involved in the production of The Postman who has seen it more than once (Three hours? Not long enough!). I spent an afternoon at the National Postal Museum soon after its grand opening at the newest location, and still only saw a fragment of the collections (whereas everyone else sped through in one hour). I don't care about stamps or collecting, it's the idea that someone somewhere writes something down, can just add some basic information on an envelope, then trust that the process will work and deliver it to the intended. What happens when the system slows or breaks down? When human nature intervenes? Is it okay to sneak a peek at a postcard? Throw away what looks like junk mail? Deliver a letter tomorrow instead?

Nancy Pearl, librarian extraordinaire (I can't believe Brendan hasn't already bragged about knowing her), recently blogged that she always starts a book discussion by asking what the title has to do with the book. At first glance, The Postmistress seems pretty straightforward. World War II has begun in Europe, but the US has yet to become involved. Information is wanted, whether broadley (as in radio newscasts) or individually (personal letters). It stands to reason that Iris James, the postmaster of her small Cape Cod town, must be the central character, given the title. Instead, Sarah Blake tells the story through the eyes and hearts of three women, Emma (the doctor's wife), Iris, and Frankie (a radio reporter broadcasting from Europe), all of whom play a role in delivering and receiving messages and information within their own worlds. It's a fascinating reminder of how slowly the world reacted to information just 70 years ago and how news was more closely protected by those with power. It recalls a time when secrets could truly be kept...or lost forever.

While the backdrop is World War II, the underlying message of the book to attune oneself to breaches of truth, justice, and equality is as timely in our present day lives as it was in the 1940s. It is easy to identify with Frankie's zest and zeal, Emma's earnestness, and Iris' commitment to order and preservation; yet in truth, many of us readers most likely resemble Maggie, Mrs. Cripps, or the Jakes brothers--any of those characters just living their lives (rightfully or wrongfully) in their own bubble. How easy it is to forget the suffering and horror going on throughout our world and just busy ourselves with what is in front of our own homes. Sarah Blake leaves the reader with haunting images of the pain and suffering of war: whether here at home or in lands far away; whether of relatives or strangers; whether then or now.

1 comment:

  1. There is nothing wrong with reading other people's personal mail. Especially letters. The advent of email has deprived younger siblings everywhere of one of the great joys of learning how to read their older brother's/sister's mail undetected.