The older I get the more fascinated I am by World War II and its effect on people’s lives. Like most historical eras, as your knowledge grows so does your understanding, which can give your life a poignancy it lacked. History is so much more than dry old facts. It’s the story of people who’s lives changed, some times dramatically, because of events beyond their control. Historical fiction, to some extent, can provide a glimpse of how life might have been or how it changes, depending on how much research the author undertakes. Helen Bryan’s War Brides is an excellent example of historical fiction.
While the novel is set just before, during, and 50 years after World War II, it is not a history of the war. Instead it is the story of five very unlikely women who forge a bond that lasts their entire lives. It details how each woman falls in love, and quite a bit of the work they do to help with the war effort. One woman is an American, a pampered debutante, who runs away from home to escape a marriage she doesn’t want. One is a Polish Jew who is forced into marriage at 16 by her parents so she can escape to England with her new husband. One is a bored English heiress who is sent to the country because she makes a spectacle of herself. One is a poverty-stricken girl sent to the country as a housemaid. And the last is a jilted woman who is brow beaten by her awful mother.
These five women look to each other for strength, courage, and friendship throughout the war. They see each other through illness, marriages, childbirth, birthdays, bombings, and the war effort. Each becomes a little stronger and a little more because of the bond they share. It’s an unlikely friendship that really is struck through necessity when the five are all thrown together in the same little country village on England’s coast closest to France.
This is a heart wrenching book in many ways. It begins with the women reuniting for the 50th anniversary of the war. There is a purpose to their meeting, an urgency to it that is not revealed until the end of the story. Helen Bryan did her research and based the story around war brides and one very real, but undiscovered, traitor. There are moments of breathtaking suspense interspersed with times of joy and laughter. It was spell binding.
There were opportunities for explicit scenes, but Bryan skirts around them nicely. I don’t remember there being a lot of foul language, if any. If there was it was of the more mild sort. This is definitely on my recommended list. I will be looking for her other books as well.