Happy Non-Fiction Tuesday, Reading Nook readers!
Today, I'm reviewing GI Brides: The Wartime Girls Who Crossed the Atlantic for Love by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi.
The book was released to strong acclaim last year in the UK, so I've been looking forward to reading this, and I think you will too!
Paperback, 368 pages
Expected publication: September 2nd 2014 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published August 1st 2013)
Format read: E-ARC via Publisher
Through the stories of these four women, G.I. Brides illuminates the experiences of war brides who found themselves in a foreign culture thousands of miles away from family and friends, with men they hardly knew. Some struggled with the isolation of life in rural America, or found their soldier less than heroic in civilian life. But most persevered, determined to turn their wartime romance into a lifelong love affair, and prove to those back home that a Hollywood ending of their own was possible.
So when I heard about Duncan Barrett's book, this became one of my most anticipated books of the year. Barrett had done a great job with The Sugar Girls, and I couldn't wait to see his take on this unique piece of World War II history.
In GI Brides, Barrett and co-authro Nuala Calvi introduce us to Sylvia, Rae, Margaret and Gwendolyn, four very different British young women, who meet their American beaus through a variety of wartime circumstances. Using a third-person omniscient narration which rotates between the four women, Barrett and Calvi show us how these meetings evolve from friendship into romance, before leading to the inevitable walk down the aisle.
Even though all four women enter into these relationships hoping for a fairytale ending in America, the reality can't be further from the truth. Barrett and Calvi carefully detail the obstacles that face the women in every step of post-wedded bliss: from trying to get passage on ships to America, to attempts to make marital life work, after the adrenaline and shine of a wartime relationship begins to wear off.
There were many things I loved about GI Brides. Barrett and Calvi have clearly undertaken a substantive amount of research while writing this book, including interviewing sixty-something brides in both the United States and in Great Britain. Their research is apparent in every facet of the book, including the vivid descriptions of what it was like traveling in the ships that had been requisitioned to take brides to the States.
(We also learn later on in the book, that one of the first-person sources has a direct connection to the authors themselves.)
But more importantly, GI Brides stands as an outstanding piece of social history, which both humanizes war, while also reminding us that the repercussions of conflict don't end when the conflict itself is over. There are decades of social impact that occur at the individual, familial and community level as a result of the temporary dalliances of war, and Barrett and Calvi brilliantly capture them here.
Duncan Barrett doesn't romanticize the trials and tribulations experienced by many of these women as they came down from their post-war adrenaline and settled into married life. He frankly discusses everything from domestic violence to substance abuse. However, with each detail and each reminisce, we actually end up admiring all of the enduring courage and strength-of-conviction by these women, all the more.
Five-star read, especially for history buffs and people who are looking for a read about some remarkable women in extraordinary times.
About the Author:
Duncan grew up in London and read English at Jesus College, Cambridge. He is the editor of Ronald Skirth's First World War memoir The Reluctant Tommy (Macmillan, 2010) and co-author of Star Trek: The Human Frontier (Polity, 2000) and Zippy and Me: The Remarkable Life in Puppets of Rainbow's Ronnie Le Drew (forthcoming, 2011). He also works as an actor and occasional theatre director.