Best-selling historical romance/fiction writer Genevieve Graham is back after the huge success of The Forgotten Home Child with her sixth novel based on and around little-known or forgotten events in Canadian history. The Forgotten Home Child brought to light the plight of thousands of children swept from London’s streets from 1896 to 1948 and shipped to Canada, not to be adopted, but to labour as indentured servants, farm help and so on.
Letters Across the Sea is the age-old (but seemingly never wearying) story of two star-crossed people who struggle through a good part of their lives torn apart by race, world war and religion until they can reconcile their differences (or can come to terms with them). Molly Ryan (Irish Protestant) and Max Dreyfus (Jewish) are the two protagonists in Letters Across the Sea. They are neighbours and the time is just before the rise of Hitler to power in Germany. Mistrust of Jews is gaining ground and a multicultural city like Toronto is not exempt. While Max and Molly grow up together and have eyes for one another, they only share one kiss before their world comes crashing down. That single kiss occurs during the Christie Pits Riot and only serves to exacerbate the religious issues that separate the Ryan and the Dreyfus families. (The 1933 Christie Pits Riot remains one of Canada’s largest outbreaks of ethnic violence. Largely forgotten in Toronto’s and Canada’s history, a plaque is all that remains to commemorate it.)
Some years later, Molly is realizing her dream of becoming a journalist at the Toronto Daily Star newspaper while Max is becoming a doctor, but hours away in Kingston. Then Canada declares war on Germany, and Max enlists.
“As a Canadian, it’s my duty to volunteer. As a Jew, I have a personal score to settle”, he tells his sister Hannah.
It is at this point that Ms. Graham cleverly works into the WWII part of the story the sad plight of the Canadian soldiers in the Battle of Hong Kong in December 1941. Max is there as a medic along with Molly’s brother Richard. Again, this is a shameful part of Canada’s military history as Hong Kong was poorly defended, the reason being that Britain never thought that the Japanese would bother with them. When the invasion did come, they were undermanned and overwhelmed, many being mercilessly murdered or taken prisoner by the Japanese (which was worse than death). At the risk of including anything resembling a spoiler, I will conclude the synopsis at this point.
Ms. Graham’s writing, for as quickly as she researches and writes a story remains a constant throughout all of her books. You know what to expect: a good romance that gets tangled up in Canadian history, separating lovers, or at least keeping them apart as they struggle with their own issues and circumstances. As such, Letters Across the Sea resembles At the Mountain’s Edge with its primary female and male protagonists rather than The Forgotten Home Child which had a number of children involved in the story. The action sequences, such as the riot and the Battle of Hong Kong, are very well written. Her dialogues never come across as forced or unrealistic and the repatriated sailors, soldiers and pilots (many of them injured and traumatized) are managed with grace and sensitivity.
“Out of habit he moved slowly, afraid to make a noise, while he took off his coat and boots. He sat on the edge of his bed, feeling the softness of the mattress beneath him, letting his body remember the idea of comfort. Then he lowered himself to the floor, more at home with its hardness against his body. He was so tired. Weary to the marrow of his bones.
The knot in his throat loosened, and though it ached from holding back his tears for so long, at least he could breathe. He inhaled slowly filling his lungs and hoping for peace, but anguish gripped him at the top. Grief came out in a groan, pushing from his gut, and the agony of the past five years rolled down his face. The images that had haunted him for years returned, stabbing him deeper and deeper: David’s motionless body lying just out of reach. Richie’s red, pleading eyes begging him not to leave. Arnie, wasted to nothing by the end, weighing no more than a child in his arms. He’d left them all behind, but their dead eyes still watched. He took a deep shuddering breath, needing to find control again, but it was much too far away,”
An instant bestseller, it goes without saying that Ms. Graham’s faithful fans have already purchased a copy of Letters Across the Sea. I’m sure a very large percentage of them are female (females buy more fiction anyway, reports show), but there is much more than young romance here. There is war with all its associated destruction of lives and inherent inhumanities. But, in time, there is forgiveness, between nations and neighbours alike. There is healing, and above all else, there is love, triumphant love.
Genevieve Graham is the #1 bestselling author of The Forgotten Home Child, Tides of Honour, Promises to Keep, Come from Away, and At the Mountain’s Edge. She is passionate about breathing life back into Canadian history through tales of love and adventure. She lives near Halifax, Nova Scotia. Visit her at GenevieveGraham.com or on Twitter and Instagram @GenGrahamAuthor.
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster (April 27 2021)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 384 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1982156635
- ISBN-13 : 978-1982156633
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James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. He began TMR in 2015, realizing that there was a genuine need for more book reviews of Canadian literature. It has since become Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases. James has been interviewed about TMR on CBC Radio and other media sites. James works as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologist and lives in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife Diane and their tabby cat Eddie.