Monday, April 16, 2012

Next to Love by Ellen Feldman

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads): For fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, The Postmistress, and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, a story of love, war, loss, and the scars they leave set during the years of World War II and its aftermath.

It’s 1941. Babe throws like a boy, thinks for herself, and never expects to escape the poor section of her quiet Massachusetts town. Then World War II breaks out, and everything changes. Her friend Grace, married to a reporter on the local paper, fears being left alone with her infant daughter when her husband is shipped out; Millie, the third member of their childhood trio, now weds the boy who always refused to settle down; and Babe wonders if she should marry Claude, who even as a child could never harm a living thing. As the war rages abroad, life on the home front undergoes its own battles and victories; and when the men return, and civilian life resumes, nothing can go back to quite the way it was.

From postwar traumas to women’s rights, racial injustice to anti-Semitism, Babe, Grace, and Millie experience the dislocations, the acute pains, and the exhilaration of a society in flux. Along the way, they will learn what it means to be a wife, a mother, a friend, a fighter, and a survivor. Beautiful, startling, and heartbreaking, Next to Love is a love letter to the brave women who shaped a nation’s destiny.



And here's what I thought:  The summary from GoodReads mentions other books that I've read, and compares this book to them --- and actually, that makes a lot of sense.  I'd agree that if you read Guernsey, or Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, you'll probably enjoy this book.  

I liked how the author begins with one character, Babe, and takes us with her through the years.  At first, it seems like she's not really friends with the other women in the small town she lives in, but then it seems like the fact that most of the men from the town are going off to war draws them together.   I found this interesting -- because I think that if it weren't for that, then these women wouldn't have enough in common to bond together at all.   I also liked how the author told parts of the story through the viewpoints of other characters --- it not only gave a balance to the story, but sometimes, it gave more insight into one of them, like Babe, or a general situation.

The author wrote in her acknowledgments that the inspiration for this novel came from a real group of young men from the town of Bedford, Virginia.  Those 19 men, from a town of 3,000 all dies in the first minutes of landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day ... and that this was the greatest one-day loss suffered by any town in America.    The real-life elements in this story really made it feel very personal, and I found I really cared about what was happening to the people in the story.   I didn't find it difficult to imagine what life would have been like for these women, left at home while the men went to war ... but I had often wondered about what it was like for men who returned home after being at war, and the author gave me that, as well.   Babe's husband comes back a changed man, and it's clear that the atrocities he witnessed while in combat have had a significant impact on him.

I found this book to be a fast read, mostly because the pace is even, and I was pretty engrossed in the story.  If you have read the books mentioned in the GoodReads review, and liked them, I'd recommend this book.   If you haven't read those books, but you find this period of history interesting, or like stories about womens' lives, you also might enjoy this book.  The author doesn't shy away from real-life situations in this time period, like women who chose to work outside the home (and then had to face giving up their jobs when the men came home), and even some of the racial tensions that existed during the 1940s and 1950s.  I think this would make a great book for book groups, because I could see it generating some good discussions.



First lines:  In the year and a half Babe Huggins has worked for Western union, she has been late only once before.  Maybe that's why in the months to come she will occasionally persuade herself that some premonition delayed her this morning.  But in her more rational moments, she knows her tardiness has nothing to do with a sixth sense, only an unsteady hand when she draws the line down the back of her leg to simulate the seam in a nylon.

Thoughts on the cover:  It's an interesting composition, with the girls at the bottom and the planes on the top -- definitely gives the flavor of the story, with the women, and the backdrop of the war.

Please note: I received an ARC of this book through LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  Thus, any pages/quotes noted in my review may change upon final publication.

3 comments:

Pepca said...

I haven't read any of the books you mention, but this era interests me. This sounds like a good book about the time, especially since it makes you care about the characters. Great review!

Alexis @ Reflections of a Bookaholic said...

I enjoyed this read. I enjoyed your review. It was very thorough and helpful. I felt like I didn't really know what to expect because I've never seen a book give such well a well-rounded perspective on one event. It's like every turn of events had difficult consequences.

Ceska said...

Next to Love is a deeply moving novel of war, love and friendship. More than that, it's the story of just how war, in this book's case WWII, leaves its mark not only on the soldiers and their families, but on society.

Since the book descripton summarizes this book so well (unlike many of them), I'll just add that the book is beautifully written and the characters are believable. Babe, Grace and Millie have been friends since they were young children, but they are very different women and experience the war and its aftermath very differently. I feel this gives the book a broader prospective on war experiences than some others I've read. It made me think of relatives who served in WWII and their spouses and I realized that their experiences were very similiar. I know that like the characters in this book for them the war never really ended--they carried, and still carry the scars from it every day. I also realized that as children of a WWII veteran, just how much the war impacted our family and choices that were made, or not made. Clearly, like the characters in this book, the war was always a shadow hovering over us.

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