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Monday, November 17, 2014

Beach Club Book Club- GI Brides by Duncan Barrett & Nuala Calvi

GI Brides  by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi
Published by William Morrow ISBN 978-0-06-232805-2
Trade paperback, $14.99, 361pages

After talking to her grandmother Margaret about her experiences as a GI bride, author Nuala Calvi knew that there was a book in that. Along with Duncan Barrett, they did much research and from that came the book GI Brides: The Wartime Girls Who Crossed the Atlantic for Love. 

The focus of the book is on four British women- Margaret, Lyn, Rae and Sylvia. The story begins in the days of WWII in England, where these young women worked and volunteered in the war effort. They each met an American GI, fell in love, and married their soldier.

When the war was over, the men went home, and their new brides soon followed. Our Beach Club Book Club received copies of the book from The Book Club Girls, and we discussed it yesterday over breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien before doing a little Christmas shopping at the Winter Village at Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan.
At Bryant Park

One of the topics of discussion included the incredible number of British women who married U.S. soldiers. At the end of the war, over 70,000 women had to be transported to America to begin their new lives. We all marveled at the sheer logistics of doing this, and how the U.S. government, along with aid from the Red Cross, was able to get these women on ships and to their new husbands.

As expected, the adjustment to their new lives was difficult. Along with cultural differences, many of these women didn't know exactly what they were getting into. They only knew their husbands briefly before marrying them, and we wondered if they married so quickly because of the shortage of young men in England (so many were killed during the war), or because they realized that life was short and you couldn't let it pass you by.

We admired the bravery of these women, leaving their families and homes and traveling thousands of miles away. When things got difficult- one husband was an alcoholic, one was a gambler, one was a philanderer, one had mother issues- these women didn't have much of a support system to rely on to help them. And going home was not an option.

Rae's bravery impressed us. She left her cheating husband and found a job as a live-in nanny with a wonderful family. She loved the family, and they loved her, but she knew eventually she would have a build a life of her own, which she did.

Sylvia ended up in Baltimore, living with her husband Bob and his family. Bob had a gambling problem, and his family enabled him, even encouraged his behavior. Sylvia later found support by joining groups founded by other GI war brides.

Lyn ended up with her husband Ben in California. Ben's Italian family were very close, and his mother was a stereotypical Italian mother. She washed and ironed her son's clothes perfectly, and cooked elaborate Italian meals. Lyn could not meet her mother-in-law's impossible standards, and was very unkind to her non-Italian daughter-in-law, and that caused much conflict.

Margaret and the charismatic Lawrence had three daughters, and Lawrence's alcoholism deteriorated into domestic violence. Having nowhere to turn, Margaret moved to Ireland, where her abusive mother took in her and the children.

All of these women showed an amazing ability to overcome tough times and difficult marriages. They made the best lives they could, and eventually thrived and even found happiness.

We all agreed it took awhile to get into the book, and it was difficult to keep the women and their husbands straight at first. But as we read, it became easier and we found each women's story so interesting. We thought that either a chart in the beginning with each woman and her husband and children and family would have helped, or perhaps telling each women's story in their own section as opposed to in chronological order may have solved that issue.

rating 4 of 5


  1. It sounds like this was a great pick for your book club!

  2. I've been wanting to read this one. Thanks for the tip to stick with it and let the book grow on me.

  3. This book has been catching my eye. Sounds amazing.

    THANKS for the great review. Wouldn't it be great to be able to talk to someone who experienced this?

    I haven't visited your blog for so long. Everything looks wonderful as usual.