Thursday, November 6, 2014

Book Review: GI Brides by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi

From Goodreads:
The “friendly invasion” of Britain by over a million American G.I.s bewitched a generation of young women deprived of male company during the Second World War. With their exotic accents, smart uniforms, and aura of Hollywood glamour, the G.I.s easily conquered their hearts, leaving British boys fighting abroad green with envy. But for girls like Sylvia, Margaret, Gwendolyn, and even the skeptical Rae, American soldiers offered something even more tantalizing than chocolate, chewing gum, and nylon stockings: an escape route from Blitz-ravaged Britain, an opportunity for a new life in affluent, modern America.

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.
I hate to even start off with my critique of the writing because it isn't good.  I want to start off telling you that I enjoyed the book as a whole, which I did, and that I don't regret the time spent reading it, which I don't.  So just trust me that you should read my Entertainment Value portion too.  Unfortunately, this book completely did not do it for me in terms of quality of writing.

To begin with, and if you know me, you know how much I value this, the research is just not there.  Or if it is,, the reader doesn't get to see it.  No sources, no historical details, no citations or descriptions of how the research was conducted.  In the Acknowledgements, the authors state that their material came from interviews and from their own imaginations.  So, at best, we're talking narrative non-fiction/non-fiction novel here.

World War II is in the near enough past that this would have been a great place to include quotes from the women or documentation of their experiences, but none of that is explored.  Instead, we're given novelized versions of the women's lives.  It includes lots of dialogue, which I can only imagine is where the author's imagination came in.  Unfortunately the dialogue is stilted and juvenile.  My honest opinion is that the book as a whole reads on a Middle Grade level.  I'd compare it to one of the Dear America books that are popular among tweens, but with adult situations.

Having just finished Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott, I was doubly disappointed by the research and source material that was missing from this book.  I expected to read something along the same lines, but found that the book was focused more on the stories of the women than on historical accuracy.

Entertainment Value
So despite my diatribe above, I still actually enjoyed my read of the book.  I felt like I would have enjoyed it more if my expectations had been less influenced by the historical detail and research of my recent Karen Abbott read.  It's a quick read and the lives the women profiled lead are fascinating.  I really wanted happiness for each of them and wanted to know how their stories would turn out.  I read through in the course of just a few sittings, even though it's not a short book because I was into the stories and wanted to know the outcomes.  It's certainly accessible for readers of any age, although the women do deal with adult situations, like abuse and abortion.

I recommend it with reservations.  I think the style will suit readers who are looking for story-line and the feeling of reading a novel, as opposed to straight up history or biography.  It created good book club discussion and I think the audience is pretty broad for this type of work.  That said, I was disappointed by the lack of source material and the knowledge that portions were the invention of the authors.  I had hoped for a more biographical/historical work.  My fellow book club members generally agreed with me - they all liked the women and cared about their stories, but had hoped for a bit more in terms of the quality of the writing and the research.

Comparisons to Call the Midwife are, I think, extremely apt.  Had I come into the book with expectations more in line with a "based on the real story" theme, I think I would have enjoyed it more.

Thanks to Book Club Girls, a Harper Collins program, for providing me and my fellow book club members with copies of the book this month!

1 comment:

  1. It's funny because the things that bugged you are what made it enjoyable for me. I liked that it read as novel as opposed to a more formal biography. It was indeed an easy read.