The Postmistress

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The Postmistress

by Sarah Blake

Penguin Publishing Group | February 1, 2011 | Trade Paperback

The Postmistress is rated 2.7917 out of 5 by 24.
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
You can’t judge a book by its cover...except when you can. The Postmistress has a most beautiful cover, but it is the story inside that makes this book so irresistible. As the story opens, World War 2 is raging in Europe but has not yet reached the shores of America. Frankie Bard is a young journalist reporting from London where she is an apprentice to the famed Edward R. Murrow. Frankie is trying desperately to bring home to Americans the reality of the war and the true evil behind the endless deportation of Jews. On the other side of the ocean, in Franklin, Massachusetts, two women find their lives increasingly swept up in the events that will eventually bring America into the fray. The first is Iris James, the new postmistress in town. She knows it is only a matter of time before Americans will be called. Her job is to deliver and keep people’s secrets, passing along the news that letters carry. A single woman, regarded with some suspicion by most of the town ladies, she is more surprised than anyone when romance comes her way. Emma Fitch is married to Will, the town doctor. Both are escaping fragile childhoods and Will in particular is determined to erase the stain left behind by his father. Their love, so deep and joyful, seems almost too good to be true. But an unexpected event with a patient unnerves Will so badly he feels compelled to leave Franklin for a time and so gets drawn to serve the dying and wounded in London. Emma must now be content with the daily letters which arrive at the post office. We are with each of these characters as events unfold – events they don’t control but which change their lives forever. As war did then and continues to do today. The Postmistress is at once both unsentimental and deeply moving. It is one of those books that stays with you long after you have read it. Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, notes on the back jacket, “...you miss this book all day until you finally get to crawl back inside the pages...when I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it”. I couldn’t agree more.

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Reviews

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 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
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not Worth the Time to Read When purchasing a new read with great reviews from Chapters I expect more than potential, which is what I feel is this book's only redeeeming quality. It just didn't do it for me. It lacked in character development and flow and nothing about it grabbed me or spoke to me in a way that made me want to continue reading. This one will get shelved unfinished, I don't have the dedication for it.
Date published: 2011-02-25
Rated 1 out of 5 by from a bit of a disappointment I received this book as a gift with great anticipation. So much had been written about it 'unlocking secrets' and 'un-put downable". I have to say I was very disappointed with it. Was it an ok read? yes, did it draw me in and not want me to put it down? NO. I found that it didn't really go anywhere and where "The postmistress" in the book fits in is still a mystery--maybe it got lost in the post? I would recommend that if you really want to read this, borrow it from the library first.
Date published: 2010-07-20
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Dull I too must say I never seem to go wrong with Heather's picks but this one and one other (Let the Great World Spin) really disappointed me. I so wanted to love this book since my favourite genre is historical fiction. Getting your money back seems silly to me, I wouldn't have the nerve to walk in and ask for it.
Date published: 2010-06-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Readable/tolerable This book was not an easy read only because at times I found it boring. I found myself skipping a few lines and maybe even an entire page. Some parts were very well written and the idea for this book is a good one. I wouldn't say run or rush to read it but at some point when all the great books you really want to read are done, pick this one up.
Date published: 2010-06-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Loved it Really, really enjoyed this book - the characters, the setting, the writing.
Date published: 2010-06-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Pass the book along.... I loved the setting. I didn't know that females were reporting on the war in England. That the East Coast had a fear of being invaded. I found it a good read, you could kinda of see the ending coming.
Date published: 2010-05-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Unoriginal and Uninspiring...even a little dull. As an author, how do you meaningfully add to the literary, social and academic discourse about WWII? With all that has been said and written in the last 70 odd years, Blake doesn't say anything that hasn't been said, better, before. Through out the book, I kept feeling like I had read this story already. Even aside from the historical aspect of this novel, the plot was a little forced and the characters less than believable. Emma and Iris are flat, underdeveloped characters, and although Frankie is more rounded. The characters failed to grip me and I found it difficult to empathize with them. Overall, this novel is just a little too sluggish. I felt I lacked in fluidity and artistry.
Date published: 2010-05-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A GOOD READ I found this book to be a wonderful read. I know it doesn’t seem to make sense to write it but it was a “slow paced” book that was an exciting “page turner” at the same time. The book follows three women during WWII. Frankie Bard, a female war correspondent and one of “Murrow’s Boys” (the character loosely based on real life correspondent Mary Marvin Breckenridge Patterson). Although the book title suggests otherwise I found Frankie to be the driving force in the book. She was in the thick of things as the story unfolded and held the key to how the story would end. Iris James is the postmistress in small town Franklin, Mass. All of the mail and news in town goes through her and she is the pulse and backbone of the community and the epitome of propriety. Through her character the other characters all intertwine. Emma Fitch is the innocent young doctor’s wife, left behind when her husband is drawn by guilt into the war effort in London. The book is described as being about “two women who are afraid to deliver the news and one women waiting desperately to hear it.” But the book is about so much more. I fell in love with the characters immediately and couldn’t wait to find out what happened to them with every turn of the page. Although difficult to read at times, the vivid descriptions Frankie gives of the people in bomb shelters and the flight of the “unwanted” trying to get to Spain or America was enthralling.
Date published: 2010-04-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointed I often love Heather Picks, and so I trusted that I would enjoy this book. However, I found the character development to be rather shallow. There was so much potential for this book - but it was never realized. There is so much well written historical fiction from this time period - I'd give this a miss.
Date published: 2010-04-06
Rated 1 out of 5 by from The Postmistress This book is very-well written,intersting& historically accurate..however I felt that it was too depressing,as every person in the book has a really bad experience that is not mitigated by any real sense of hope. We should remember the saying"Without hope,the people perish." In my opinion,even tho' the story is so well written,I had to really force myself to keep reading it--then--what do I get--more depressing items thrown-in..
Date published: 2010-04-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Romance, history and suspense all in one great novel! I couldn't put this book down. I am passing it on to someone I care about. I definitely recommend it.
Date published: 2010-04-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Heartwrenching Sarah Blake writes a heart-wrenching story of love and war in America and Europe during WWII. Life was very different between these two continents and Ms. Blake shows us this with clarity and passion. I really liked "The Postmistress". I liked the characters and the plot development. The opening pages are an interest grabber making the reader want to immerse themselves into the mystery. That is where the story falls short. There is no mystery. I was expecting bags of mail being "misplaced" but this was not the case. In the end, would those missing letters have really made a difference in the life of the intended recipient if she had received them? Those letters were more of an anchor than a main theme and I found them to be irrelevant and weak. However, there was an element of suspense and over all I really enjoyed "The Postmistress".
Date published: 2010-03-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Irresistible Story You can’t judge a book by its cover...except when you can. The Postmistress has a most beautiful cover, but it is the story inside that makes this book so irresistible. As the story opens, World War 2 is raging in Europe but has not yet reached the shores of America. Frankie Bard is a young journalist reporting from London where she is an apprentice to the famed Edward R. Murrow. Frankie is trying desperately to bring home to Americans the reality of the war and the true evil behind the endless deportation of Jews. On the other side of the ocean, in Franklin, Massachusetts, two women find their lives increasingly swept up in the events that will eventually bring America into the fray. The first is Iris James, the new postmistress in town. She knows it is only a matter of time before Americans will be called. Her job is to deliver and keep people’s secrets, passing along the news that letters carry. A single woman, regarded with some suspicion by most of the town ladies, she is more surprised than anyone when romance comes her way. Emma Fitch is married to Will, the town doctor. Both are escaping fragile childhoods and Will in particular is determined to erase the stain left behind by his father. Their love, so deep and joyful, seems almost too good to be true. But an unexpected event with a patient unnerves Will so badly he feels compelled to leave Franklin for a time and so gets drawn to serve the dying and wounded in London. Emma must now be content with the daily letters which arrive at the post office. We are with each of these characters as events unfold – events they don’t control but which change their lives forever. As war did then and continues to do today. The Postmistress is at once both unsentimental and deeply moving. It is one of those books that stays with you long after you have read it. Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, notes on the back jacket, “...you miss this book all day until you finally get to crawl back inside the pages...when I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it”. I couldn’t agree more.
Date published: 2010-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A story to be read Set in the time of World War II, the story begins with Iris James, resident of a small town on Cape Cod, whose belief in order and in the system in her job as a postmistress encompasses everything she stands for in life. Iris is drawn to Harry Vale, the town’s mechanic, who keeps watch of the ocean everyday searching for the German U boats he is certain will come. Also residents of the town, Will, the town’s doctor, and Emma are newlyweds hoping to build a new life together. Meanwhile, radio gal Frankie Bard arrives in London. The two couples’ lives, as well as Frankie’s are entwined as she broadcasts a Europe ravaged by war: from London during the Blitz, to Occupied France as Frankie encounters thousands of refugees traveling on trains, and she desperately tries to get the right stories. You may find the pace of the first 30 pages or so a bit slow, but after that you will not be able to put it down as it gains momentum and Frankie's perspective in the novel guides the heart of the story. Written with vivid descriptions and poetic prose, Sarah Blake weaves a poignant and quietly remarkable story about the weight of truth, those who bear that weight, and, in the words of the author, a story “about the lies we tell ourselves in order not to acknowledge what we can’t bear”. Is this a sad story? Perhaps. Sometimes people asked why anyone would read such “sad” stories, and although I don’t always tell them, I believe it is because those stories have to be told, and they have to be read.
Date published: 2010-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Just Amazing It is the early 1940’s, war is raging in Europe. Frankie Bard is there covering the war for American Radio with Edward R. Murrow. As the bombs drop down into the dark night sky in London, Emma and her new husband have been just reunited in the small town of Franklin, Massachusetts, where he is a doctor. This small town has it quirks and eccentricities as do all small towns; Harry is one of them – he climbs the steps to the tower on the town hall every night to search the waters for u boats, he is adamant that will arrive on their shores. The Postmistress Iris does her job to the letter every single day keeping the town’s secrets while delivering the mail. Until one day, she slips a letter into her pocket. Afterwards, she reads the letter; then decides not to deliver it. As Frankie delivers the news from Europe, she is asked in the middle of it to travel the rails to get as many stories as she can from the people who are travelling to other parts of Europe; in search of their stories, their feelings, parts of their lives recorded on a new voice recorder. She has wanted to do this before; to travel to France where she has heard snippets of information about the Germans that are putting all the Jewish people in camps. The people in the US don’t think the war will touch them and live as though it won’t. As the people tell their stories to Frankie, she is changed. Once the tough woman going to Europe to be a correspondent, she is moved by these people’s stories; as well as the guards that take each and every Jewish person off the trains at different stops; not knowing that they will be probably be dead within hours. Two seemingly different places in the world that is just as separate as they are in miles away. A simple letter is the only thing that will bring the two together, along with the three women, the loss of innocence, what things happen to the cherished moments, when those moments are gone forever when the news is broken from far away, and up close. I was mesmerized and immediately taken away when I started reading the first few pages of the book. Caught up in the 1940’s between small town America, where life for the moment was normal, and Europe during the WWII as it raged on, bombs dropping from the sky night after night. The manner in which the author had woven the intricate worlds of both to encapsulate the reader was like poetry. The way that the incidents, how we experienced the events as it continued its way until the end where it will change us forever. I absolutely loved this book. I hope that it will capture you as it did me. http://serendipiter.wordpress.com
Date published: 2010-02-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Slow to start, but stick with it! I have to admit, I had to force myself to get into it at first. The start of the book was rather slow and hard to get into. It really wasn't until I hit the chapters that focused on Frankie that I suddenly got myself into the book and was more interested in it. Besides the slow start, I was left wondering what in the world these characters have to do with each other until certain events take place then the pieces fall in, slowly. To be honest, if it weren't for Frankie and her experiences throughout Europe, I probably would have liked this book less. I found Frankie to be the most central part of this book and which brought all the characters together through her voice on the radio. The descriptions of the quiet town of Franklin and its' inhabitants is nice and detailed enough to make it real. There is a big distinction between both Franklin and London and it's written well enough that both places are realistic and well rounded out. I liked how Franklin is so far away from the war and in their own little world, oblivious to what is happening on the other side of the world, knowing there is no way of the war hitting home. Yet Frankie brings it to them through her voice and she does what she can to make sure all sides of the war is shown and that people get the truth of what's happening. When she comes on the radio, you can almost "hear" her talk and it goes to show how powerful the use of radio was back then in the 40's because it's left to the listener's imagination. The most eye opening part in the book is when Frankie goes within Europe to interview refugees she finds along the way from Germany to France. This actually changes her outlook of the war and this is where you see a key development in her character. I also thought it was the most interesting part in this novel and felt just as helpless as she was towards these refugees. I also liked how Blake intertwined both plots to eventually make it into one towards the end of the novel by having the three main women featured in the novel to finally come together face to face. It went smoothly and without a bump, definitely a good job done by the author. Aside from the slow start, I sort of didn't understand Iris and her character. In the beginning I thought she was strange and not very likable at all. Honestly, I get the idea of why she would be part of the story in the first place, but she's such a flat character and very uninteresting that I feel the author just placed her there just for placement and for necessity. She's really just a secondary character, I think. However of all the characters, I really did like Frankie the best. She was such an free spirit and a forward thinking individual, definitely a woman that stood out during the 40's! Another thing, Frankie likes to say "Christ" a lot. For some reason I can't see a woman swearing like that in the 40's, it just seems unreal and odd. Also, there's a part in the novel where Emma smokes and she's pregnant. Now perhaps it wasn't known that smoking during pregnancy is harmful for an unborn child so it was really strange and odd to read that. Then again, we have to remember, this book takes place in 1940, not in present day. It's hard to remember that and it's odd to read. Once you have it set in your mind about the major differences, then it gets easier. Overall, a book that starts to grow with you, so don't give up early on it. It does eventually get better.
Date published: 2009-10-25

– 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

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.

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?