Acts of love and war
Viking Canada, 416 pages, $24.00
During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), more than fifty thousand men and women volunteered to fight with the International Brigades and to provide humanitarian aid to refugees in favor of democracy and to repel fascism.
Protagonist Lucy Nicholson and her childhood friend from Hertfordshire Thomas Murray join the causecommitted anti-fascists, while Thomas’ brother Jamie chooses to report from the other side, blindly believing in the Roman Catholic Church’s support for Franco.
In Barcelona, Lucy joins a Quaker relief effort caring for the city’s three hundred thousand refugees and befriends a traumatized orphan. Quickly realizing the magnitude of the need, Lucy thinks: “one person can’t change everything, but maybe they can change something”.
The letters sustain the characters through difficult days full of loss, but it’s Brookes’ extraordinary empathy for each of them that triumphs in a time when being needed is a form of happiness.
Shaunna J. Edwards and Alyson Richman
Graydon House, 384 pages, $35.99
This is the heart of the American Civil War. In March 1863 in New Orleans, the talented musician William was illiterate and enslaved. But, with the help of his secret lover Stella, who embroiders him a cloth map indicating a safe route, he escapes to join the Union army.
There he meets New Yorker Jacob Kling, a cornet player who has been convinced by his abolitionist wife Lily to volunteer for moral reasons, putting him on the opposite side of his confederate sympathizer brother Samuel who is getting rich in the Mississippi.
Kept (and sometimes shared) secrets drive the plot forward, and the music serves as a motif that connects the narrative threads of this gripping tale that emerges from the family histories of its creative collaborators. His message is timeless: “We have to raise the hell up a bit if we want to build a better nation.”
The orphan girl
By Kurt Palka
McClelland & Stewart, 328 pages, $22.00
Grounded in heartbreak and secrecy, the novel opens in 1945 London, following 20-something Kate Henderson, who fortunately served as a paramedic and paramedic throughout the war. The death of her diplomat father in 1937 is a shadow in Kate’s life. David Cooper, one of her father’s closest friends, entrusts her with a mysterious hidden manuscript – “Dostoyevsky and Friends” – insisting that if he were to die or disappear, Kate must burn it.
Recovering from physical trauma and a new tragedy in her life, Kate stays with Dr. Giroux, a sympathetic doctor who lives with his own demons. A friend’s uncle teaches Kate self-defense and weapons of convenience, skills that become essential as she rebuilds her life.
With harrowing detail, it’s a compassionate page-turner on the resilience of ordinary characters during an extraordinary time.
The Manhattan Girls: a novel about Dorothy Parker and her friends
By Gil Paul
William Morrow, 416 pages, $21.00
In bubbly Jazz Age New York City, four ambitious and creative workers keep secrets, gossip, and encourage each other, especially during dark personal times.
Chapters alternate between the voices of this remarkable real-life quartet: Jane Grant, the New York Times’ first female reporter; Peggy Leech, aspiring novelist and salesperson for Condé Nast; Broadway actress Winifred Lenihan on the eve of her big break; and Dorothy Parker, legendary spirit and member of the Algonquin Round Table.
Paul’s impeccable ear for dialogue and his vibrantly imaginative characters who behave on their own terms bring this tale irresistibly to life.
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