Written by Judith Pella, the four books which make up this series mark the starting point for much of my fascination with the 1940s. Following the stories of three very different American sisters, through their experiences Pella brilliantly brings to vivid life many of the divergent perspectives and events that occurred across continents throughout WWII.
To begin, the reader gets to see a glimpse of what the Japanese occupation of the Philippines was like through the middle sister Blair’s eyes as she attempts to reconcile with her estranged soldier husband. This first-hand knowledge of the unspeakable cruelty committed by the Japanese Army results in a sizable amount of understandable trauma. On the flip side, the plight of the Japanese Americans and the unjust way others treat them following Pearl Harbor deeply affects youngest daughter Jackie because of her romantic relationship with Sam, a Nisei (American-born child of Japanese immigrants). In contrast to Blair, Jackie has a front-row seat to the extreme prejudice, deprivation and turmoil inflicted upon innocent Japanese Americans because of their heritage. These polar opposite experiences result in a stiff distance between the sisters when they reunite at the end of the third book. This altering of their relationship from the closeness they shared in book one showcases effectively the emotional conflict which would have occurred because of the complex reality of life in the 40s for those caught on opposite sides of a conflict that now defines that decade.
Judith Pella didn’t just limit herself to focusing on the Pacific Theatre of the war, however. Oldest sister Cameron, whose storyline throughout the series is my favorite, follows her passion working as a war correspondent across Europe before finally landing in Russia for an extended period of time. A tough woman fighting to make a place for herself in a male-dominated profession, in this foreign land she opens her heart for the first time to the man who will become the love of her life, Dr. Alex Rostov (his Americanized name), and also uncovers the reality of the Holocaust horror.
This terrible event undertakes a new dimension thanks to Cameron’s friendship with Robert, a diplomat in the American Embassy who had only recently discovered his father and grandfather made a tremendous effort to bury their family’s Jewish heritage to escape the continuous prejudice. The actions of his family when compared with the desire of many Japanese Americans to embrace the American side of their heritage is an interesting reflection on how the events of the 40’s strongly impacted people’s identities.
One of the most powerful scenes for me in this storyline is when Alex lets Cameron interview Allied soldiers at his hospital and then blindsides her by taking her to talk with some German Prisoners of War. Cameron sees these young men as Alex has come to, as no different from the Allied ones she just interviewed; scared, and confused, with plans for the future and loved ones waiting for them to come home.
The 1940s was a time of incredible hardship and exquisite moments of joy, greatly intensified by the events of WWII. Pella beautifully displays the multi-faceted nature of life in this era and the influence it had on people’s sense of identity, their relationships, and places in society in all its messy glory through the complex and relatable fictional characters in this series.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Hopeless romantic, fervent bibliophile, and aspiring word-smith, Kirsty Pearce also has a deep love for fantasy, fairy tales, & history. With a wide range of TV obsessions from Outlander, Bitten, & Grimm, to Dancing With The Stars, Nikita, & Horrible Histories, she enjoys watching as many Hallmark films as possible, knitting, baking, and sharing all her fan-girl thoughts on her blog.