The Major’s Daughter by J.P. Francis
Plume, 2014. Trade paperback, 387 pages.
The Major’s Daughter is a powerful story of longing for another set against the backdrop of World War II. Unlike traditional war romance stories, this one takes a vastly new approach in more ways than one.
Collie Brennan, the daughter of Camp Stark commandant Major John Brennan, has traveled to New Hampshire to work with her father at the POW camp he is to run. She serves as both a secretary and translator at the voluntary labor camp where the prisoners will do logging work. Private August Wahrlich is one of the POWs who volunteered for work at Camp Stark. He has heard the mountains of New Hampshire resemble those in his native Austria. He never expected to find the woman of his dreams. Collie and August are besotted with each other from their first meeting. However, they realize they can never only explore their feelings for each other, but it does not stop them from trying to find a way.
In two parallel, but interconnected stories, we see how two of Collie’s friends also handle their longing for those out of their reach. Marie Chapman is still in high school, but a dear friend to the twenty-something Collie. She is also enamored of August, but cedes him to Collie due to her age. She wants to see the budding romance succeed and her sunny disposition brings joy to all she knows until a tragedy strikes. In the other, we see Collie’s college friend Estelle Emhoff struggle with love. Her parents want her to marry George Samuels, the son of a long time family friend. However, Estelle pines for the man she admires but her family considers socially unacceptable: Neem Kamal, an Sikh Indian florist. What decision will Estelle make and how will it affect her?
Readers also see throughout the book how other relationships affect the story. Collie is loyal to her widowed father. She also frequently confides in Marie and Estelle. August finds comfort in discussing post-war hopes with his friend Gerhard. Lastly, the son of the local paper mill owner, Henry Heights, has also set his sights on Collie and attempts to court her. All of these relationships add to the struggle Collie and August have to find a way to be together.
I thought this novel was elegantly written. The writing was very descriptive and poetic. The story lines were well-woven together, all connecting in some manner. The way the characters long for the one they love pulls at the reader’s heart and makes them want to see the relationships succeed, but one has to read the novel to find out whether or not this is the case. My only complaint is that nothing prepared me for the shocking ending of the story. While that shows the story was written masterfully, it was quite emotional. Lastly, the realization that if the world war not at war Collie and August’s largest obstacle to togetherness would be non-existent only makes this novel more heart-wrenching.
For those who liked the young adult book My Summer of a German Solider, this will be the adult version of that novel. And having read both, I much prefer the depth and range of emotions depicted in this novel better.
Have you read either book? If so what are your thoughts? If you have read both, which did you prefer?
This review is based on a book won in a Goodreads giveaway from 2014.