Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Star for Mrs. Blake: A Novel

Title:  A Star for Mrs. Blake:  A Novel
Author:  April Smith
Publication Information:  Knopf. 2014. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0307958841 / 978-0307958846

Book Source:  I read this book based on its description and that it deals with a piece of history with which I am not familiar.

Favorite Quote:  "When you grieve, you are not alone. You are with God and everybody else who grieves throughout time."

A reader's guide to this book calls it "anchored in a footnote of history."

In the late 1920s, an act of Congress was approved by the President to fund the gold star pilgrimages. The gold star mothers are mothers who have lost a child in the service of their country.

The pilgrimages were an opportunity for these mothers to travel, at the government's expense, and visit the grave sites of their children lost during war and buried overseas. This book tells the story of one such pilgrimage to France to visit graves of soldiers who gave their lives during World War I. It is based on the actual diaries of the son of Colonel Thomas West Hammond, who acted as a liaison on the gold mother pilgrimages at the beginning of his career.

The book is about "Party A" of the pilgrimage group - Cora Blake, Katie McConnell, Minnie Siebert, Wilhelmina Russell, and Genevieve Olsen. The women come from different backgrounds, different ethnic heritages, and different socio-economic standings. Cora is a widow from a small town in Maine where she has spent most of her life. Katie McConnell is from a large Irish family; she lost two sons in the war. Minnie Siebert is a Jewish housewife. Wilhelmina has spent years in and out of asylums due to mental health issues. Genevieve "Bobbie" Olsen is a wealthy socialite.

For all their differences, what unites them all is the fact that they all lost a son in the war. Their grief unites them.

The trip brings them from their diverse homes to New York City, on board a ship to Europe, and then to Paris and on to the fields where their boys are buried.

This book and its premise holds such promise. Yet, the delivery falls a little short. Several side stories emerge, including:
  • The story of Mrs. Selma Russell, the "colored" gold star mother who is accidentally placed with Party A. Even though the boys all fought, died, and are buried together, the pilgrimages are separate based on the color of your skin.
  • The story of Thomas Hammond, the new army officer trying to live up to the expectations of family.
  • The story of Nurse Lily, struggling with her decision between continuing her work as a nurse and getting married because the hospital does not allow married nurses.
  • The story of Griffin Reed, the reporter living with the injuries of war.
  • The story of General Perkins and the use of his power.
This is all in addition to the individual and collective stories of the five women that comprise Party A. I found some of the women more interesting than the others, and some of the stories more interesting than the others. Some of the writing was emotional and moving, definitely more so for the characters I found more intriguing. It could have been a truly wonderful book had the story remained more focused.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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