NOTE: I received early access to LETTERS ACROSS THE SEA through netgalley in exchange for writing an impartial review. Thank you Simon Schuster. Scheduled publication date: April 27, 2021.
The story begins in 1933, (as Adolph Hitler is coming to power in Germany) with a little known riot in Toronto during the depths of The Great Depression. Canadians are struggling to find jobs and sufficient food and their growing desperation is fueling anti-semitism. Against this backdrop is the story of a friendship between two families — one Irish, one Jewish — and a doomed Romeo-and-Juliet-type romance that is budding between Molly Ryan and her best friend’s brother, Max Dreyfus.
This first third of the novel struck me as more predictable, even bordering at times on stereotyping and the trite. But when the novel then jumps to 1939, and begins to follow the unfolding war, it becomes a much more compelling story of how war impacts families, loyalties, and the individual soldiers themselves.
By this time, Molly is working hard to establish her journalism career in a male-dominated newsroom while her brothers and Max are among the millions of young men fighting overseas. The details of what these soldiers witnessed, what they suffered, and what they were forced to do is graphic, dramatic and not for the faint of heart. In fact, as someone who has read many novels about World War II, this one is among the most powerful in its descriptions of battle and prisoner-of-war atrocities.
As the author explains in the book’s Afterword, Genevieve Graham began the novel aiming to tell a story about the Toronto Christie Pits Riot of 1933. But, during her research, decided to extend that story to World War II. The connection between the two seemed a bit clunky to me. But not so much that it kept this from being an interesting read. By the end, I didn’t want to put the book down, even though I sometimes did because I needed a break from the horror of it.
Well worth your investment of time.
More about the author, Genevieve Graham, an historical novelist who focuses on Canadian history.
If you are interested in learning more about the Christie Pits Riot of 1933, there’s a video I found.