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Interesting Historical Domestic Detail about WWII in England
on May 12, 2015
The War Brides is a very interesting novel that depicts young women living through the civilian experience of World War II, mainly in a coastal town in England. Interesting because each of the women marries early in the war but survives alone with the support of this circle of friends. Rationing, food scarcity and the value of knowing how to "poach" game, the relocation of children from the dangerous streets of London to rural villages, and the conversion of once grand houses to convalescent homes for terribly wounded soldiers are all aspects of life in this period that seem authentic. Author Helen Bryan has good material that makes an appealing historical novel about five unique women in war time. Regretably, there are gaps in the story and elements that don't gel because they seem too unbelievable or are too truncated, or the characters are never developed. Such is the case with Evangeline, who runs away from Louisiana with a British officer because she wants to escape discovery of her affair with a mixed race cousin who has fled before her to France. The implausibility of her rapid escape to England at the start of the war, but her inability to get to France to meet her lover - surely a much easier journey - leaves the reader skeptical, and her ill treatment of the British officer makes her unlikeable, and her ultimate claim of affection for him is unlikely. The officer's infatuation with Evangeline and his abandonment of his rather dull fiancé seems more likely if the officer had actually spent any time with Evangeline doing more than dancing at a party in Louisiana.
More plausible is the escape from Austria of a young Jewish couple who spend most of the novel separated by the husband's work with the war office. It is hardly surprising that the young Jewish girl (16) doesn't recognize the fate of her family left behind to the fate of living under Nazis as so little is known about the Holocaust until after the war. The plot gets derailed by an unlikely plot to smuggle two young sisters out of a refugee camp in France by boat, with a plan to use smugglers tunnels on the coastline that lead to the village cemetery. This was too much Nancy Drew for me. The end of the story reveals that the cockney youth and his girlfriend have become wealthy and titled, apparently due to Bernie's legal and illicit businesses during the war, which seems a likely story scenario.There is enough material in War Brides to make a rich and coherent novel. Unfortunately, if is too rough in places and too improbable in others to come together as a well-constructed novel. Some better editing and fuller
development of the male characters would, at a minimum, smooth over the rough edges. Nevertheless I managed to finish reading this book because I kept being drawn in by the realism of depictions of life during the war in rural England.