Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Last Telegram

Wartime literature is an interesting thing. Especially what's been written to take place during WWII. It seems there's been so much written that we should be exhausted of topics and stories by now. But of course, there's always something else to be written, right? I hadn't read any novels set during WWI or WWII in quite some time, so when The Last Telegram came back to my library one of the times I was working, I thought I needed to read it. After all, it was set in Britain. I always go for books set in Britain. Though this is the first one I've read this year. (Branching out a bit more again haha.)


The book opens with an elderly Lily Verner burying her husband, and preparing herself to leave her childhood home she's lived in for her entire life. She has a conversation with her granddaughter that sparks off a chain of memories that sends her (and us) immediately back to a sultry July day in 1938. And that's when the story really begins. Eighteen year old Lily is feeling wild and free, but also cooped up and wants to get away from the life she's always known. She wants desperately to go to London. Of course, one things leads to another and she ends up apprenticing at her father's silk mill, that she never wanted to work at. Then the war begins and there's no way for her to leave. Around this time the Kindertransport is going on, and Lily's older brother John wants to help the kids. He and Lily go and pick out three teenage boys to come help them in the mill. Being German, this too ends up causing problems, especially when Lily and Stefan (the oldest) fall in love. When the war starts, Lily's father makes the decision that the mill will begin making parachute silk to stay in business throughout the war, and that causes many rumors to fly that there is sabotage...and it spirals even further from there.


The Last Telegram is an artfully woven tale of love and loss, country loyalties, and the view of war in a young woman's eyes. It is also, in many ways, a showcase of the silk industry. The author, Liz Trenow, grew up in a silk milling family in Britain, which is why she knows so much about the industry. I found all the facts about silk absolutely fascinating, though others might not appreciate it as much. But honestly, this book was beautiful and very, very sad. It takes a lot for me to cry, and there were a few moments I was definitely ugly crying while reading this. And yet I couldn't put it down. I managed to not even realize how much time was passing one night and read for 3 1/2 hours into the middle of the night (until I finished the book) because I was so entranced.

It's not the best written book I've ever read, and there could probably have been more editing and also filling out because there are a few rather large jumps of time; it's not a long novel but it covers the time period of the entire war. But it's heartfelt, informative, and has a twist near the end that I honestly did not see coming. Definitely recommended. Also would be a good choice for a book club, especially as some editions have questions in the back already.

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