Tuesday, September 2, 2014

GI Brides: The Wartime Girls Who Crossed the Atlantic for Love

Title:  GI Brides: The Wartime Girls Who Crossed the Atlantic for Love
Author:  Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi
Publication Information:  William Morrow Paperbacks. 2014. 368 pages.
ISBN:  0062328050 / 978-0062328052

Book Source:  I received this book through the GoodReads First Reads program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "Just remember, you don't marry a man, you marry a whole family, and you've got to bend over backwards to make it work."

World War II Britain was ravaged. The young women living there faced a world of the blitz, of shortages of everything, and of all their "boys" gone to fight. When the American soldiers arrived, they brought with them some of the simple luxuries of life lacking in Britain at the time and something of the Hollywood glamour. They also brought hope and a way to a new, more prosperous life.

According to the New York Times archives, approximately 70,000 British war brides came to the United States between 1945 to 1950. This book captures the stories of four of these brides - Sylvia, Gwendolyn, Rae, and Margaret.

Sylvia met her soldier husband while volunteering for the Red Cross. Gwendolyn or Lyn met her soldier in her home town of Southhampton, when the Americans took control of the port to bring in the cargo and supplies for the Americans in Britain. Rae joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the women's branch of the British Army at that time; she married her soldier husband despite a conflicting desire to pursue her military career. Margaret found herself working for the US Army in London, with the opportunity to meet many soldiers. All four women fell in love. All four left their jobs, families, and home to follow their husbands to the United States.

At a aggregate level, the book does a vivid and dynamic job of depicting the conditions in wartime England. It also brings to light the harrowing journeys these women took to their new adopted homeland - the heartache of leaving home and family, the questioning, the physical searches, the conditions on the Army ships on which they travelled, the culture shock, and the social struggles they faced in the United States.

The copy of the book I received includes no images. That would be a wonderful enhancement to the book. The acknowledgements at the end of book reference the website http://www.gibrides.com with pictures and audio clips of some of the interviews that form the basis of this book.

When looking at the stories on a more individual level, I have two concerns about the book - one about the organization and one about the content.

The book is told in alternating chapters from the lives of the four women - Sylvia, Gwendolyn, Rae, and Margaret. It allows their stories to develop in parallel from war ravaged Britain, through their courtship, their journey to America, and their married life in America. As each has their own unique experience, the organization allows the different perspectives to be compared. However, at the same time, the organization of the book makes it difficult to follow the continuity of one woman's story. I often found myself referring back to the previous chapters related to each one to pick up the thread of her individual story.

The description of the book states, "Some struggled with the isolation of life in rural American, or found their soldier less than heroic in civilian life. But most persevered, determined to turn their warm romance into a life long love affair, and prove to those back home that a Hollywood ending of their own was possible."

The book encompasses a lot more of the struggle than of the life long love. These women married men they did not know and came to a place they did not know to begin their life anew. The expected clash of cultures and of family is clear throughout the book. In addition, the book depicts economic hardship, loss, illness, addiction, betrayal, and even abuse through these relationships. I would hope that some GI Brides found happiness, but the love and the happy ending are far less developed in the book than the heartache.

Overall, the book portrays an engrossing picture of a time of history and an amazing group of women.

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

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