Book Review: The Letter

Kathryn Hughes’ compelling novel, The Letter, takes place in England and Ireland, and toggles between the early days of World War II and the 1970s.

While processing donated clothes where she volunteers at a thrift store in Manchester, England, Tina discovers an unposted letter in the pocket of a man’s old suit. The letter is obviously very old and she can’t resist opening it. Written by a distraught young man to the woman he loves, the letter apologizes for his behavior when he learned the woman was pregnant. Tina’s curiosity drives her to learn more about the letter and the obvious tragedy behind it. Why wasn’t the letter delivered? Who were these people? In any event, the project takes her mind off her own troubles dealing with Rick, her abusive husband.

The story goes back to 1938, to the home of a domineering father, a doctor, his wife, a midwife, and their daughter, Chrissie. Chrissie, 19, is seeing Billy a young man whom her father disapproves. Much to her intense dismay, she discovers she is pregnant. When her father learns of her condition, he immediately sends her to live with his wife’s sister in Ireland.

The story goes into some detail about the horror of unwed mothers being sent to convents and the harsh treatment they endured, invariably ending with relinquishing their babies to adoptive families.

The Letter held my rapt fascination as it weaves the stories of Tina and Rick in the 1970s and Chrissie and Billy in the late 1930s. As Tina delves into the story, another character appears, an American, which adds to the mystery.

I enjoyed The Letter, even though some of the harsh treatment depicted, though believable, was hard to read. The author does a good job of describing the attitudes and conditions of the day of both generations.

Book Review: May the Road Rise Up to Meet You

May the Road Rise UpPeter Troy, author of May the Road Rise Up to Meet You writes a compelling story, weaving the lives of four main characters as they cope with turbulent times. The novel encompasses first Ireland and its Great Famine and then moves on to America just before and then during the Civil War. His description of the Civil War, seen through the eyes of these diverse characters, makes this novel a unique read. The book chronicles years 1853 through 1867.

Mary Wilkins, a slave,.is a young girl when she’s sold to a family who treats her kindly, but she is nevertheless a slave, unable to personally benefit from the beautiful garments she creates.

Ethan McOwen is only twelve when he leaves his grieving mother and aunt in Ireland to join his father and brother in America. For the first time in his life, he’s alone for the endless dangerous journey across the sea. He’s reunited with his father and brother whom he hasn’t seen for two years and his life begins again in America.

Micah, a slave, eventually gives himself the last name of Plowshare, but for much of his life, he is simply Micah. An extraordinary carpenter, he is much in demand, but has no control over his own life, and sees his skills benefit only his master. When it comes to rights, he’s on an equal par with a mule.

Marcella Arroyo, originally from Spain, is the daughter of a wealthy merchant, but becomes involved with the Abolition Movement to end slavery. In order to follow her heart, she must leave her father’s house to join others of like mind.

As the stories of these individuals unfold, I found myself embroiled in this great saga. Troy doesn’t always follow the rules of writing literature, but rather follows what captures your heart. His use of colloquial language and accents enriches the narrative. He skillfully balances the perils and joys of each life as they encounter one another. The ravages of the Civil War drive their individual stories, giving the reader insightful behind-the-scenes glimpses of America during this dark period.

I highly recommend May the Road Rise Up to Meet You. ‘Tis a book you’ll not soon forget.