Friday, November 11, 2011

Dream When You're Feeling Blue

I had planned to post tonight about another book entirely, but the observance of Veteran's day gave me a new idea. More specifically, I was inspired by my husband's big band, currently performing in a 1940s- themed radio broadcast at the FDR home in Hyde Park, NY. The show includes 40s-era big band music, snippets of WWII news broadcasts, and stories from Veterans and children of Veterans. I'm listening to the radio station right now, online at I'm not sure if it will be available after the broadcast ends at 9:00 tonight, but if it is, give it a listen. Yes, I'm biased, but the band is fantastic, and the news snippets are hauntingly fascinating.

The music instantly reminded me of this book.

It's actually been a long time since I've read it, but it's one of those books that has stuck with me without my quite knowing why. It's about life on the home front in Chicago during WWII. The story centers on an Irish Catholic family with three teenage girls, the Heaney sisters: Kitty, Louise and Tish. At the start of the book, the Heaney girls are lighthearted, flirtatious and vain. As the war progresses, they each begin to take the war and the soldiers to their hearts. Patriotic and loyal to a fault, the three support the war effort by taking jobs in airplane factories; making do with small food rations and faux silk stockings; organizing and attending endless USO dances and benefits; and most of all, sitting at the kitchen table every night, writing letters to their boys overseas. Kitty's letters from her boyfriend Julian, who she had expected to propose to her before shipping out, seem dry and lacking emotion, and lead Kitty to seek understanding about the war elsewhere. Louise's correspondences with fiance Michael are sensitive, loving and poetic, but neither hints at the fears they both carry, or the damaging secret Louise also carries. Tish gayly writes to several men, content to do her duty by keeping her letters light, funny and flirtatious. Meanwhile, mother Margaret watches over her girls, a sharp eye and witty retort always at the ready. As the story progresses, each sister becomes more aware of her feelings about love, friendship, loyalty and family, and in the end, each has created a new dream for herself and her sweetheart.

Elizabeth Berg is an author I truly admire (in fact, I really should add her to my "favorites" list). She has a style of writing that's both candid and poetic. Though generally not a historical fiction writer, she obviously did her research on this book, and treated the time period with respect, realism and plenty of detail. I do think there's a sepia-toned romanticism about parts of this book that may disturb some who lived during these times. But then again, all difficult time periods find relief in the simple happiness of things such as letters, dancing and pin-curls, and as I didn't live through WWII myself, I'm not qualified to judge whether these small joys are over-emphasized.

Altogether, this is a beautiful book with wonderful characters and setting. Even those who don't usually read historical fiction will find something to enjoy here.

And finally, if you're finding the song "Dream (When You're Feeling Blue)" stuck in your head, as I am, here's a little relief:

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