Publication date: July 2018
Review, short version: Four roses out of four.
Review, long version:
I am an Anglophile:
I love many things British.
I love British history, British royalty, the history of British royalty, British castles and churches, colloquialisms and accents, and exports, like the Beatles.
I don’t love all things British – mushy peas, for one:
Mushy peas are dried marrowfat peas which are first soaked overnight in water with sodium bicarbonate, then rinsed in fresh water and simmered with a little sugar and salt until they form a thick green lumpy mash.
A new British export I love is Dear Mrs. Bird, by AJ Pearce. Pearce was born in England, and this book, her first, begins in London, December 1940. World War II had started in September 1939, and the “Blitz” – the German bombing offensive all over England – began in September 1940.
So our narrator of Dear Mrs. Bird, 22-year-old Emmy Lake, is in the thick of Hitler’s bombardment of London, and Germany was relentless: attacks mostly at night but also during the day, on industrial areas, government buildings, military targets, and on civilians – not accidentally, but deliberately.
Thousands of Londoners killed or injured, homes and businesses destroyed, life uncertain except for the certainty of more bombs, deaths and destruction.
Emmy’s parents live outside London, in a safer (though not safe) area. Emmy says,
“Mother always worried about how we kept going. I had no idea. We just did.”
And Pearce puts us right there with Emmy who keeps going, like most people in England: determined to be brave, continue on with her life, and never, ever allow Hitler to defeat her, military-wise or morale-wise.
Emmy goes to work, volunteers for the Fire Brigade, hangs out with her best friend Bunty, and meets a nice, young man, Charles. The English are known for their stiff-upper-lip outlook, and also for their understatements, and here’s a perfect example, as Charles and Emmy head out one evening to the cinema. In reference to the bombings Charles’ brother says,
“You know it could be a heavy night, don’t you?”
“That’s all right,” says Emmy. “We know all the [bomb] shelters on the way home…And I reckon you may as well be a moving duck as a sitting one.”
Stiff upper lip. Good show.
When Charles calls Emmy the morning after another bombing:
“Charles said how pleased he was that I had been all right during last night’s raid and I said it wasn’t that bad really and didn’t mention seeing two children and a Fire Brigade nearly get squashed to death in the street.”
Another delightful aspect of Dear Mrs. Bird is the characters’ so-very-English colloquialisms:
|“Really does take the biscuit.”||Someone has done something you find very annoying or surprising.|
|“I’ll have his guts for bloody garters.”||A threat of a serious reprisal.|
|“Make not too bad a fist of the thing.”||Try not to mess up too badly.|
|“I was a pretty thin show.”||I messed up badly.|
|“In the bag, sir.”||It’s handled.|
At this point I realize I haven’t said much about the plot of Dear Mrs. Bird, why the book is called that, who Mrs. Bird is, and what she and the war and all the rest have to do with Emmy.
And I haven’t conveyed the full horror of the Blitz, its impact, and the astounding courage, fortitude, and “just carry on” attitude of the people during this terrible time.
But Emmy does all that, and it’s a bit of alright.
Dear Mrs. Bird may not turn you into an Anglophile, but don’t be surprised if at some point you find yourself saying,