The Postmistress

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The Postmistress

by Sarah Blake

Penguin Publishing Group | February 1, 2011 | Trade Paperback

The Postmistress is rated 2.4 out of 5 by 10.
The New York Times bestseller- "A beautifully written, thought-provoking novel." -#1 New York Times bestselling author Kathryn Stockett.

In 1940, Iris James is the postmistress in coastal Franklin, Massachusetts. Iris knows more about the townspeople than she will ever say, and believes her job is to deliver secrets. Yet one day she does the unthinkable: slips a letter into her pocket, reads it, and doesn't deliver it.

Meanwhile, Frankie Bard broadcasts from overseas with Edward R. Murrow. Her dispatches beg listeners to pay heed as the Nazis bomb London nightly. Most of the townspeople of Franklin think the war can't touch them. But both Iris and Frankie know better...

The Postmistress is a tale of two worlds-one shattered by violence, the other willfully naïve-and of two women whose job is to deliver the news, yet who find themselves unable to do so. Through their eyes, and the eyes of everyday people caught in history's tide, it examines how stories are told, and how the fact of war is borne even through everyday life.

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Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 384 pages, 8.25 × 5.05 × 1.02 in

Published: February 1, 2011

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0425238695

ISBN - 13: 9780425238691

Found in: Fiction and Literature

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Reviews

Rated 2 out of 5 by from Boring... Boring...couldn't finish it. I think this was the second book in my life that I haven't been able to finish.
Date published: 2014-12-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing I had heard mixed reviews about this book, but ultimately and belatedly picked it up because it was a Heather's Pick - and Heather very rarely steers me wrong. This pick however was a miss. The book is a disjointed tragedy. Moments of happiness in the book are fleeting and the characters seem not to even like themselves. The story centres around 3 women, and the one with the least involvement is said Postmistress, so I don't quite get the title or the book description, as I find neither of them to be accurate. Interactions are all awkward, the storyline shifts in time, place and perspective mis-stream, and the ending did nothing to redeem the slogging I had to do just to get through the book. There were a few moments when Frankie Bard was reporting from the bombings in London, England by the Germans that I thought were poignant. But the rest of the novel I could take or leave, and certainly cannot recommend.
Date published: 2014-06-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Boring... i read this last year, and I'm now trying to remember what it is about. Right, it's about World War II, the journalist, and the community on the US sea-side. The Postmistress is not the central character, in a way her role kind of ties it all together. I admit, the storyline was somewhat of a bore of read, and I was not a fan of some of the characters. But I do have the likeness of the writing style and enjoyed the journalist's story.
Date published: 2013-11-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Okay I found that I could not fully get involved with this book. Found myself skimming through sentences just to get through it. Some parts were good. However, I didn't feel that there was enough character development. I couldn't really feel for the characters and what was happening to them.
Date published: 2013-01-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Heartbreakingly Amazing This book is not for the faint at heart. Be prepared to dive into a world of heartbreak and hope, both aspects intertwined into a world of chaos. The writing is excellent and the characters are in depth. A must-read for anyone who has any interest in history and the truth about the chaos and devestation of WWII.
Date published: 2011-08-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A true war time story . . . This is the story of three women, each of whom is directly affected by the war overseas. Each women will need to be strong in order to survive the atrocities of war and each will face difficult decisions. Iris is the town's postmistress, a job which she takes extremely serious. Emma is the young, quite and naive wife of Dr. Will Fitch who goes to England to help the wounded. Frankie is a war time reporter who is reporting literally from the front lines with bomb exploding overhead who is attempting to get the people back home to pay attention to what is going on overseas. Great book, ending was a little disappointing. For my full review please visit my blog: http://bookwormchronicles14.blogspot.com/
Date published: 2011-08-01
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Ok Read This book was picked for my bookclub and I thought it would be good as Heather's picks usually are. However, this book kind of plodded along, slow in areas. However, even though it wasn't my favorite read, there are some really beautiful passages and imagery that sits with you afterwards. And I was interested enough to finish the book. So if you enjoy wartime stories about the people it affects in different ways, then this book is for you.
Date published: 2011-07-05
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Sadly not for Me It is rare for me to put a book down after I've started it, but this one just isn't going anywhere for me. As a book club selection, there is no way I could finish it on time, as I can only read about 20 pages before I'm up looking for something else to do - you know it's bad when you'd rather get the laundry caught up- I can't say with 100% certainty that I won't try and finish it, but it'll take some convincing from my fellow clubbers and a guarantee that the story starts to flow for it to happen.
Date published: 2011-05-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Slow but good I found this book a little slow to get into at the beginning, I kept wondering when it was going to pick up. Before I knew it I didn't want to put it down because I was wondering what the next thing to happen was. Great character development for some of the main characters, others you finish the book without really getting to know them at all and you wished you did.
Date published: 2011-04-21
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Boring I wished I had got this one from the library, it was a total waste of money, I found myself skipping lines and sometimes pages to find out what I was missing. I don't think I missed anything it was totally boring. I wasted my money on this one.
Date published: 2011-04-03

– More About This Product –

The Postmistress

The Postmistress

by Sarah Blake

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 384 pages, 8.25 × 5.05 × 1.02 in

Published: February 1, 2011

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0425238695

ISBN - 13: 9780425238691

Read from the Book

Fall1940It began, as it often does, with a woman putting her ducks in a row.It had occurred to Iris a few weeks back— at the height of summer when tourists jammed the post office with their oiled bodies and their scattered, childish vacation glee— that if what she thought were going to happen was going to, she ought to be prepared. She ought, really oughtn’t she, to be ready to show Harry that though she was forty, as old as the century, he would be the first. The very first. And she had always put more stock in words set down on a clean white piece of paper than any sort of talk. Talk was—“Right,” said the doctor, turning away to wash his hands.Iris supposed she was meant to get up and get dressed while his back was turned, but she had not had the foresight to wear a skirt, thinking instead that her blue dress was the thing for this appointment, and no matter how thorough a man Dr. Broad was, he’d have turned around from the sink long before she’d gotten it over her head, and then where would they be? The leather banquette on which she lay was comfortably firm and smelled like the chairs in the reading room at the public library. No, she would stay put. She slid her gaze from the ceiling over to the little sink at which the doctor stood, rubbing his hands beneath the gurgle. He was certainly thorough. Well, there must be all sorts of muck down there anyone would want to wash their hands of. And as the nextstep was the certificate, she ’d be the first to insist that nothing c
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From the Publisher

The New York Times bestseller- "A beautifully written, thought-provoking novel." -#1 New York Times bestselling author Kathryn Stockett.

In 1940, Iris James is the postmistress in coastal Franklin, Massachusetts. Iris knows more about the townspeople than she will ever say, and believes her job is to deliver secrets. Yet one day she does the unthinkable: slips a letter into her pocket, reads it, and doesn't deliver it.

Meanwhile, Frankie Bard broadcasts from overseas with Edward R. Murrow. Her dispatches beg listeners to pay heed as the Nazis bomb London nightly. Most of the townspeople of Franklin think the war can't touch them. But both Iris and Frankie know better...

The Postmistress is a tale of two worlds-one shattered by violence, the other willfully naïve-and of two women whose job is to deliver the news, yet who find themselves unable to do so. Through their eyes, and the eyes of everyday people caught in history's tide, it examines how stories are told, and how the fact of war is borne even through everyday life.

Watch a Video

About the Author

Sarah Blake lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband, the poet Josh Weiner, and their two sons.

Editorial Reviews

"Some novels we savor for their lapidary prose, others for their flesh and blood characters, and still others for a sweeping narrative arc that leaves us light- headed and changed; Sarah Blake's masterful, The Postmistress, serves us all this and more. Compassionate, insightful, and unsentimental, this masterful novel is told in a rare and highly successful omniscient voice, one that delves deeply into the seemingly random nature of love and war and story itself. This is a superb book!" -Andre Dubus III, author of House of Sand and Fog "The Postmistress is the fictional communique readers have waited for. Sarah Blake has brought small-town American life and ravaged Europe during WWII to us with cinematic immediacy. The romantic, harrowing -- and utterly inimitable-- story of radio journalist Frankie Bard (appalled yet intoxicated by tragedy as no character I've ever read before) contains the uncompromised sensibility found in the writings of Martha Gellhorn. The Postmistress belongs in what Gellhorn called "the permanent and necessary" library." -Howard Norman, author of The Bird Artist and Devotion "Great books give you a feeling that you miss all day until you finally get to crawl back inside those pages again. The Postmistress is one of those rare books. When I wasn't reading it, I was thinking about it. Sarah Blake seamlessly moves from inside one character to another, in a novel that reminds us of a time when the news travelled from post to paper to radio and that i
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Bookclub Guide

INTRODUCTION

Those who carry the truth sometimes bear a terrible weight…

It is 1940. While war is raging in Europe, in the United States President Roosevelt promises he won’t send American boys over to fight.

Iris James is the postmistress and spinster of Franklin, Massachusetts, a small town on Cape Cod. Iris knows a lot more about the townspeople that she will ever say. She knows that Emma Trask has come to marry the town’s young doctor. She knows that Harry Vale, the town’s mechanic, inspects the ocean from the tower of the town hall, searching in vain for German U-Boats he is certain will come. Iris firmly believes that her job is to deliver and keep people’s secrets, to pass along the news of love and sorrow that letters carry. Yet one day Iris does the unthinkable: she slips a letter into her pocket. And then she does something even worse — she reads the letter, then doesn’t deliver it.

Meanwhile, seemingly fearless American radio gal Frankie Bard is working with Edward R. Murrow, reporting from the Blitz in London. Frankie’s radio dispatches crinkle across the Atlantic, imploring listeners to pay attention to what is going on as the Nazis bomb London nightly. Then, in the last, desperate days of the summer of 1941, Frankie rides the trains out of Germany and reports what is happening. But while most of the townspeople of Franklin are convinced the war “overseas” can’t touch them, Iris and Emma — unable to tear themselves away from Frankie’s voice — know better.

Alternating between an America on the eve of entering into World War II, still safe and snug in its inability to grasp the danger at hand, and a Europe being torn apart by war, the two stories collide in a letter, bringing the war finally home to Franklin.

The Postmistress is a tale of three unforgettable women, of lost innocence, of what happens to love when those we cherish leave us. It examines how we tell each other stories—how we bear the fact that that war is going on at the same time as ordinary lives continue. Filled with stunning parallels to our lives today, it is a remarkable novel.



ABOUT SARAH BLAKE

Sarah Blake lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband, the poet Josh Weiner, and their two sons.



A CONVERSATION WITH SARAH BLAKE

Q. What attracted you to this time period, right before the attack on Pearl Harbor?

I played around with when to set the novel—at one point I had Will drafted and in the Army and lost horribly in the Bataan Death March—but the more research I did on the war I grew more and more interested in this three year period from 1938-1941 when all of Europe was at war, Japan and China were marching to the brink, and we were (officially) neutral. I was interested in the time before it was clear, before it was “the good war,” before the full horror of the Holocaust—the things we know now—was evident. What would that feel like? What would it feel like before our role in history, and in WW2 was a given. Against that I wanted to dramatize Frankie’s growing desperation--echoed in so many reports of the time--her desire for her country to pay attention. It seemed to me to resonate with so much of what was going on here during the years I was writing the book, roughly 2001-2008, when the country seemed not to be paying attention to the fact that we were in fact in a war. Indeed, we were being told by our leadership to look away.

Q. What kind of research did you do for the novel?

I read many books about the war and the time period, and I went through stacks of Life Magazines from 1940-1945. I spent quite a while at The Museum of Radio.

As well as reading Work Project Administration interviews with people who were living on Cape Cod at the time, I interviewed a woman in her nineties who lived in Provincetown (on which the town of Franklin is loosely based) during the war. I interviewed a war journalist, a midwife and also the postmaster of North Haven Maine who told me in no uncertain terms that there was no such thing as a postmistress. (This was after I’d told him the title of my novel) “It’s postmaster,” he rapped out, “ I don’t care whether it’s a man, a woman or a baboon.”

Q. You have a PhD in Victorian Literature. Does that background influence your writing?

Nineteenth century literature is fantastically two-fisted, and I am clearly influenced by the years I spent studying it closely. On the one hand there are the enormous sweeping novels of Dickens, Zola, Balzac where whole worlds—cities and nations-- are painstakingly chronicled and set into play; and then, on the other there is the Victorian ghost story which is often a domestic drama where characters are haunted (literally and figuratively) by figments of their own passions and desires—like those found in the Brontes, Wilkie Collins, and Thomas Hardy. I am drawn to the complicated plots and twists and turns of characters’ desires that were a benchmark of Victorian fiction. And in fact, mIy first novel, Grange House, arose out of my desire to try and write a Victorian novel, down to the serpentine sentences, the speech patterns, and the ghost plot.

Q. In The Postmistress, Frankie struggles with how to tell the stories of the people she meets. Is that something you’ve experienced as a writer?

A woman sitting next to me on a plane told me the story of her uncle in Austria under the Nazis, which was more or less the story I gave to Thomas on the train. It is an amazing story of coincidence and escape and it sent shivers down my spine as she told it. The struggle came with how to use it—how to set it so it could shine jewel-like out of the larger frame of the novel; how to make it mean, in other words. On the other hand, when I was interviewing a woman in Provincetown who had lived through the war years there, she told me the story of a German breadwrapper that had washed up on the Back Shore, proof that the German Uboats were out there and not far. For years I tried to use that story in my novel—trying every which way to have a breadwrapper discovered, at one point even staging the running aground of a Uboat on the beach, witnessed by Harry—but in the end, it just didn’t fit, so I had to leave it—perfect story—behind.

Edward R. Murrow, Frankie’s boss, is an important historical figure. Is there a difference between writing about a real person, versus writing about a character you’ve created? In some ways writing about Edward R. Murrow was easier than the other characters because his character, his mode of speaking, his observations are so much a part of the public record. Listening to his broadcasts give us immediate insight into the passion and heart and intellect of a man gifted at translating what he sees and hears into vivid word pictures. I read the transcripts of his broadcasts and was able to imagine how he might speak in conversation, how he might move about in a scene, because of the way in which he wrote. In many ways, he wrote himself.

Q. The Postmistress begins with Frankie at a dinner party years later. Do you have some idea of what happened to Emma and Iris after the events of the novel?

I imagine that the two remain in Franklin, and that Iris becomes a kind of godmother to Emma and her child. I’d like to think that Emma begins to have the experience of having someone watching over her, watching out, the very thing she said she’d never had, and then got so briefly, through Will.



DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
  • Much of The Postmistress is centered on Frankie’s radio broadcasts—either Frankie broadcasting them, or the other characters listening to them. How do you think the experience of listening to the news via radio in the 1940s differs from our experience of getting news from the television or the internet? What is the difference between hearing news and seeing pictures, or reading accounts of news? Do you think there is something that the human voice conveys that the printed word cannot?

  • “Get in. Get the story. Get out.” That is Murrow’s charge to Frankie. Does The Postmistress make you question whether it’s possible to ever really get the whole story? Or to get out?

  • When Thomas is killed, Frankie imagines his parents sitting miles away, not knowing what has happened to their son and realizes there is no way for her to tell them. Today it is rare that news can’t be delivered. In this age of news 24/7, are we better off?

  • Seek Truth. Report it. Minimize Harm. That is the journalist’s code. And it haunts Frankie during the book. Why wasn’t Frankie able to deliver the letter or tell Emma about meeting Will? For someone whose job was to deliver the news, did she fail?

  • If you were Iris, would you have delivered the letter? Why or why not? Was she wrong not to deliver it? What good, if any, grew up in the gap of time Emma didn’t know the news? What was taken from Emma in not knowing immediately what happened?

  • In the funk hole, Will says that “everything adds up”, but Frankie disagrees, saying that life is a series of “random, incomprehensible accidents”. Which philosophy do you believe? Which theory does The Postmistress make a better case for?

  • After Thomas tells his story of escape, the old woman in the train compartment says “There was God looking out for you at every turn.” Thomas disagrees. “People looked out. Not God.” He adds, “There is no God. Only us.” How doesThe Postmistress raise the questions of faith in wartime? How does this connect to the decisions Iris and Frankie make with regard to Emma?

  • Why do you think Maggie’s death compels Will to leave for England?

  • The novel deals with the last summer of innocence for the United States before it was drawn into WWII and before the United States was attacked. Do you see any modern-day parallels? And if so, what?

  • What are the pleasures and drawbacks of historical novels? Is there a case to be made the The Postmistress is not about the 1940’s so much as it uses the comfortable distance of that time and place in order to ask questions about war? About accident? Aren’t all novels historical? Why or why not?

  • We know that Emma was orphaned, that Will’s father had drinking problems, that Iris’s brother was killed in the First War, and that Frankie grew up in a brownstone in Washington Square. How do these characters’ backgrounds shape the decisions that they make? And if we didn’t have this information, would our opinion of the characters and their actions change?

  • Early in the novel, Frankie reflects on the fact that most people believed that “women shouldn’t be reporting the war.” Do you think that Frankie’s gender influences her reporting? How does Frankie deal with being a female in a male-dominated field? And do you think female reporters today are under closer scrutiny because of their gender?

  • Why does Otto refuse to tell the townspeople that he’s Jewish? Do you think he’s right not to do so?

  • Why is the certificate of virginity so important to Iris? What does it tell us about her character?

  • When Frankie returns to America, she doesn’t understand finds it impossible to grasp that people are calmly going about their lives while war rages in Europe. What part does complacency play in The Postmistress?

  • Discuss the significance of the Martha Gellhorn quote at the beginning of the book, “War happens to people, one by one. That is really all I have to say, and it seems to me I have been saying it forever.” What stance towards war, and of telling a war story does this reveal? How does it inform your reading of The Postmistress?