Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Star for Mrs Blake, by April Smith

In the years after The Great War, before the causes World War II had fully reared their ugly heads, and were just snuffling around claiming ground, mothers of fallen US soldiers joined together to support and comfort each other, but to also provide care to wounded soldiers far from their families. The American Gold Star Mothers, so named from the gold stars hung in their windows to indicate a deceased veteran, still exists today. A Star for Mrs Blake takes place in the infancy of this organization, during an ambitious program of the US government to sponsor a pilgrimage offering mothers of soldiers who died in WWI the chance to visit the graves of their children in Europe. Inspired by the diary of Colonel Thomas West Hammond, whose first assignment out of West Point was to escort the Gold Star Mothers on their journey, this books centers on Cora Blake, a mother from Maine, who lost her only child, Sammy, in the final days of the war.

Though the first half of the book moved a bit slowly for me, the pace did quicken as the mothers got closer to Europe. The personalities and backgrounds of the women featured in the book did seem to cover various walks of life, allowing glimpses into the worlds of different slices of society during the Depression. There were also some memorable characters introduced in Paris, notably Griffin Reed, an expatriate American journalist and Florence Dean Powell (based loosely on Anna Coleman Ladd, an American sculptor, fascinating in her own right, one of the artists who designed lifelike masks for gravely wounded soldiers.) While the book itself was a nice enough read, it was the pages of history it lead me to explore that really have enriched my life. Thank you April Smith, for again bringing these subjects to my attention so that I could delve more deeply, and thank you to and Random House for sending a copy of the book my way. I am grateful, and grateful to the men and women who honor our country by serving in the armed forces.

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