Reviewed by Ruth Latta
Tea and Biscuit Girls
by Barbara Celeste McCloskey
Paperback: 388 pages, July 25, 2012, ISBN-13: 978-1462685967
The Love Immigrants
by Barbara Celeste McCloskey
Paperback: 314 pages, September 25, 2012, ISBN-13: 978-1462697700
Barbara Celeste McCloskey is interested in World War II because her parents were of the generation who came of age during that massive conflict. Her interest has led her to write three novels focusing on young women’s lives in wartime: Apple Strudel Girls, (2011), Tea and Biscuit Girls (2012) and The Love Immigrants (2012).
Tea and Biscuit Girls presents two young British women, Katie and Jenny, who meet while working with the Land Army on a Scottish farm, and forge an enduring bond. The Love Immigrants, subtitled “Three War Brides Come to America”, a sequel which can stand on its own, shows Katie, Jenny and Heidi, a German war bride, starting new lives in the U.S. with their American husbands.
McCloskey’s young women characters go through typical rites of passage, including challenging work, romance, pregnancy, childbirth and loss of loved ones. Both Tea and Biscuit Girls and The Love Immigrants made me remember the stories I’ve heard from people who were young during the Second World War. By including Jewish refugee children and a German war-bride in The Love Immigrants, McCloskey broadens and deepens her story. Her research included histories, diaries and first person accounts.
Readers who enjoyed the late great Maeve Binchy’s novel, Light a Penny Candle, which begins with an English child spending the war years in Ireland, will be interested in Katie’s sojourn on a Scottish farm in McCloskey’s Tea and Biscuit Girls. I was convinced that the Scottish aunt and uncle were drawn from life, but McCloskey informed me in an email that they are fictional constructs. She consulted a friend who grew up in Scotland in the 1950s for details about climate, landscape and buildings and consulted a website of Scottish words, to achieve realism. Her ability to create such life-like fictional characters is one of her strengths as a novelist.
The young wives are surprised and pleased by the standard of living in America, but the one whose fabulous New York honeymoon seems to set the pattern for the future is sadly disappointed. The old saying, “Marry in haste, repent at leisure” applies here. Even those wartime couples who had time to get to know each other did so under atypical circumstances.
While a number of real-life war brides I met had a difficult time with in-laws, the fictional women in McCloskey’s novel are welcomed warmly, including the young German woman. The threat from the old girlfriend at home, however, is a plot element in The Love Immigrants.
Many works of fiction have been set during World War II. Two of my favourites are the TV Foyle’s War and the movie Yanks. It is a well-known fact, however, that if one assigned the same topic to a room full of fiction writers, each would come up with something unique. McCloskey’s novels show her flair for exploring women’s friendships and feelings and will attract and educate today’s generation of young woman readers about an intense, dramatic time in history.
About the reviewer: Ruth Latta is the compiler and editor of The Memory of All That: Canadian Women’s Memories of World War II, (Burnstown, Canada, General Store Publishing House), available through firstname.lastname@example.org