Publisher: Ballantine Books
Published: July 2013
Genre: historical fiction, WWI / WWII fiction
March 1912: Twenty-four-year-old Elspeth Dunn, a published poet, has never seen the world beyond her home on Scotland’s remote Isle of Skye. So she is astonished when her first fan letter arrives, from a college student, David Graham, in far-away America. As the two strike up a correspondence—sharing their favorite books, wildest hopes, and deepest secrets—their exchanges blossom into friendship, and eventually into love. But as World War I engulfs Europe and David volunteers as an ambulance driver on the Western front, Elspeth can only wait for him on Skye, hoping he’ll survive.
June 1940: At the start of World War II, Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret, has fallen for a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Her mother warns her against seeking love in wartime, an admonition Margaret doesn’t understand. Then, after a bomb rocks Elspeth’s house, and letters that were hidden in a wall come raining down, Elspeth disappears. Only a single letter remains as a clue to Elspeth’s whereabouts. As Margaret sets out to discover where her mother has gone, she must also face the truth of what happened to her family long ago.
When Margaret Dunn’s mother, Elspeth, up and leaves Edinburgh in June 1940 after a series of bombs, Margaret is left with only one clue as to her whereabouts and intentions: a letter written to “Sue” from “Davey” in 1914. As Margaret searches for her mother’s past, Elspeth is searching for David Graham, an American she corresponded without before and throughout the First World War. Told entirely through letters, these women face two very different wartime atmospheres, and are determined to uncover the past that may heal the future.
The whole concept of a book written entirely in letters fascinated me. There’s something antiquated about it, something charming, and it brought me back to a time when a response from a loved one was never instantaneous. People were open and emotional and detailed in their letters — there were few forms of communication to truly and accurately keep up with friends and family. When David mailed an obscure Scottish poet, he didn’t expect a response — and she didn’t expect a letter from anyone outside of Skye or Scotland, for that matter. Their surprises, witty quips, slow exposure of their true feelings, and later their deep love and devotion through one another, all grip you and hold you from the first page to the last.
Another technique I really liked was Margaret’s discovery of other aspects of Elspeth’s life that Elspeth would either never mention in the letters or it would be mentioned later by Elspeth or David. For example, Elspeth and David indirectly refer to an incident between David and her brother Finlay, but it’s Finlay who writes a letter to Margaret explaining what happened. Or, in another instance, Margaret finds a letter that was never sent, which then changes the course of the book.
Like reading a friend’s diary, this book is deeply emotional, incredibly moving, and impossible to put down.