The United States Congress in 1929 passed legislation to fund travel for mothers of the fallen soldiers of World War I to visit their sons’ graves in France. Over the next three years, 6,693 Gold Star Mothers made the trip. In this emotionally charged, brilliantly realized novel, April Smith breathes life into a unique moment in American history, imagining the experience of five of these women.
They are strangers at the start, but their lives will become inextricably intertwined, altered in indelible ways. These very different Gold Star Mothers travel to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery to say final good-byes to their sons and come together along the way to face the unexpected: a death, a scandal, and a secret revealed.
None of these pilgrims will be as affected as Cora Blake, who has lived almost her entire life in a small fishing village off the coast of Maine, caring for her late sister’s three daughters, hoping to fill the void left by the death of her son, Sammy, who was killed on a scouting mission during the final days of the war. Cora believes she is managing as well as can be expected in the midst of the Depression, but nothing has prepared her for what lies ahead on this unpredictable journey, including an extraordinary encounter with an expatriate American journalist, Griffin Reed, who was wounded in the trenches and hides behind a metal mask, one of hundreds of “tin noses” who became symbols of the war.
With expert storytelling, memorable characters, and beautiful prose, April Smith gives us a timeless story, by turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, set against a footnote of history––little known, yet unforgettable.
I absolutely loved this novel.
The setting is the bulk of the story and my goodness it is arresting. As the ‘pilgrims’ and their entourage travel to France, tracing their loved ones steps and finally arriving at the cemetery it is moving and will touch the reader. Smith’s description of surroundings is vivid and gives a sense of the horrific events the soldiers endured.
Purely character driven Smith does a fabulous job blending differences, beliefs, heritage, military and civilian – the entire cast makes this story powerful. You learn their history as well as the fallen soldiers and it pulls you further into their lives and narrative. Numerous characters, each interesting and effective in narrative.
The five main female characters all hailing from varying circumstances with the commonality of the loss of their sons’ linking them together will leave you impressed and inspired. As these women reminisce and feel the presence of their sons’ with them, you find yourself sharing their sorrow. As they visit the final resting place of their soldier sons’ at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery their grief and loss is felt through the words of Smith. Undoubtedly these women and their late sons’ will move you, leaving you enthralled and distraught with their individual as well as collective heartbreak.
A powerful story, as a daughter of a WWII vet I found myself immersed and moved by this story. WWI is often overshadowed by other poignant events in history, yet the devastation WWI delivered was large. Smith selected a smart and heartbreaking moment in WWI that will leave the reader sentient as well as reflective long after the book is finished. Absolutely wonderful novel, Smith is sensitive and respectful in her delivery of history and its heroes, sobering story all around.