Letters Across The Sea is the second historical fiction novel I have read by Genevieve Graham. The first was The Forgotten Home Child, which I enjoyed just as much as I did this upcoming release. While Graham’s characters are Canadian through and through, the stories they tell are universal.
The Dreyfus and Ryan families are neighbors in Toronto. One family is Jewish, the other Protestant. Even so, Hannah Dreyfus and Molly Ryan are best friends. Their older brothers, Max and Richie, had been very close before Max left for college. The Great Depression impacted the Ryan family to the point their children had to drop out of school to work. When Max returns from college, he sees Molly in a new light, and a spark grows between the two. He encourages Molly to attend night school so she can become the journalist she wants to be. However, they both know their love is forbidden.
The friendship between the two families is torn apart when the Christie Pits Riot occurs in Toronto on August 16, 1933. This riot was a clash between the members of Swastika Clubs and the Jews, who were aided by Italian immigrants. The feelings of anti-Semitism were fueled in part by prejudicial news reporting by one of the Toronto papers. Only six years later, these groups who fought against each other, find themselves fighting side-by-side during World War II. All of Molly’s brothers join the war effort. The former friends, Max and Richie are sent to Hong Kong in the same company just before it was attacked by the Japanese. The Battle of Hong Kong is known as the only battle in World War II that was a 100% failure by the allies.
Molly fulfills her dream of becoming a reporter. When the war is over, she begins writing stories about the horrors of POW camps. If you read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, you have a sense of the atrocities committed by Japan during the war. The novel also paints a realistic picture of the post-traumatic stress suffered by many of the soldiers upon their return home.
5-Stars. Book club recommended. There are great discussion questions included that cover prejudice against immigrants, anti-Semitism, the power of news reporting, PTSD, and other topics that unfortunately are still current today. There are also great questions regarding friendships, forgiveness, and the power of love.
Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for my advanced reader copy. The expected publication day is April 27, 2021.