Completion Date: August 11, 2011
Reason for Reading: Received review copy from Random House via NetGalley.
"War . . . next to love, has most captured the world's imagination."-Eric Partridge, British lexicographer, 1914I tend to read all over the place, but there are a few trends in my reading. I enjoy books connected with World War 1 or World War 2. There is just something about those time periods that appeal to me. I enjoy reading about their lifestyles, the sacrifice, and the repercussions of countries at war. It is not a pleasant time in our history, but it has had lasting effects on the world that we live in today. I think that is why I love history as a whole. I enjoy watching the country evolve and pin-pointing changes throughout history.
A story of love, war, loss, and the scars they leave, Next to Love follows the lives of three young women and their men during the years of World War II and its aftermath, beginning with the men going off to war and ending a generation later, when their children are on the cusp of their own adulthood.
Set in a small town in Massachusetts, the novel follows three childhood friends, Babe, Millie, and Grace, whose lives are unmoored when their men are called to duty. And yet the changes that are thrust upon them move them in directions they never dreamed possible-while their husbands and boyfriends are enduring their own transformations. In the decades that follow, the three friends lose their innocence, struggle to raise their children, and find meaning and love in unexpected places. And as they change, so does America-from a country in which people know their place in the social hierarchy to a world in which feminism, the Civil Rights movement, and technological innovations present new possibilities-and uncertainties. And yet Babe, Millie, and Grace remain bonded by their past, even as their children grow up and away and a new society rises from the ashes of the war.
Beautifully crafted and unforgettable, Next to Love depicts the enduring power of love and friendship, and illuminates a transformational moment in American history.
I had been seeing reviews of this book here and there and it sounded right up my alley. This is a book about 3 women on the Homefront and what it was like for them during and after the Second World War. That is not a subject I see a lot of books about; so I was interested to see how Feldman pulled it off. I cannot even imagine what it was like to either be off fighting during the wars or what it was like for those that were left behind. These women had to fend for themselves and never entirely know if their loved ones would make it back alive. And, if they did, they would be drastically changed from the men they originally said good-bye to.
What I really enjoyed about this book, though, was it went many years beyond the war and showed just how lasting its effects could be. I found that all really fascinating, to be honest. It was something I have thought a lot about. My grandfather fought in World War 2 and I didn't come around until many years later and you could still tell the war stuck with him. He refused to talk about it except to say how disheartened he was by the aftermath. He used to say it sickened him how the men he knew came home and drowned their sorrows in alcohol because they knew no other way to cope. There were packages to give money to returning soldiers, as is shown several times in this book, but there was not always the support. These men came home different people and it was up to them and their loved ones to adapt. It was not always easy.
This novel follows Babe, Millie, and Grace. When their men go off to fight in the war, they are still very young. The before time was a time of innocence, but as the novel progresses and the war drags on you say a drastic change in them. It only gets worse when some of the men don't make it home at all and those that do have been changed drastically. When the war ends these women essentially have to start their lives over all over again. They always remain friends because of their bonds as young children, but it is apparent that things will never be the same. There are many moments where they do not understand each other at all.
Babe feels lost because she never has children of her own, despite wanting some, so has to find other ways to occupy her time. There are moments where she feels like as her husband is getting better, she is getting worse. It is through her that was experience the events of the Civil Rights and Feminist Movements. Through Millie we experience what it is like to be married to a Jewish man after the war has ended. The Americans fought against those that wanted to eradicate the entire religion, but when the ashes settle they do not always treat them very fairly considering they helped win them their freedom. Grace is struggling just to get by from day to day. She feels lost in this new world and doesn't always make the best choices.
Overall, I found this book was a great exploration of what it was like living during and after World War 2. My only major issue was that the author felt she needed to make sex such a big part of the story. I think the book would have been just as effective if she hadn't concentrated on this quite so much. The book was still written well enough that I enjoyed reading it, though, and I look forward to diving into Feldman's backlist. I guess what I am trying to say is that even though I didn't love this book, I still recommend it.
This book counts for the Historical Fiction Challenge.