March 2020, covid hits and Cassie scoops up her son Noah and heads for a remote caravan. Noah has impaired immunity and his mum is desperate to keep him safe. But she is acting illegally, ignoring the stay home lockdown rule, and the locals want her gone… 1939 Ruby Summers is a young woman who dreams of a sparkling future in science alongside her Italian love. But as war devastates Europe, her Edmondo becomes the enemy and the locals turn against them…
Letters to a Stranger is an absolutely stunning book. The format is a series of texts, emails, letters and diary entries written by Cassie, Ruby and a host of other characters. I found this structure really effective and guzzled the book so quickly, unwilling to put it down!
Cassie is scared about her son’s weakened immune system so braves breaking the law to take him out of London. This takes them away from her dentist boyfriend Stuart who cannot stop working which she feels risks compromiseing Noah’s health. Living in a caravan has some quirks and she quickly develops a rapport with the owner Austin even though they cannot meet in person.
Meanwhile, Cassie receives a letter from a care home resident Ruby and the pair start sharing their stories. Ruby was 17 at the outbreak of WW2 and in love with Italian Edmondo but his nationality becomes a major issue. She faces divided loyalties as her heart is torn betwern the man she loves and her country.
The book is completing absorbing and I read faster and faster, wanting to know what would happen to these two wonderful women. The short messages keep the pace rapid as events unfold and they are faced with impossible choices. My only quibble was the speed of the postal deliveries! The juxtaposition of the war and lockdown was so clever and it was a reminder of the human cost of national policies.
I also felt an emotional connection to this book because my own great grandfather was Italian who was proudly in the British Merchant Navy during WW1 yet experienced negative attitudes which forced the family to change their surname immediately after the war.
Letters to a Stranger is an utterly wonderful, emotional, and fascinating novel.
England, 1940. Dearest Ruby, you must have heard the news by now. The very worst has happened. Our countries are at war. What can I do? How can I stop this nightmare from happening? One day soon we’ll be together again. I swear. I love you. E. x
Present day. Ruby Summers has lived an extraordinary life. Now, at ninety-six years old and living in a quiet countryside retirement home, Ruby may be an elderly lady, but her memory remains perfect.
She remembers the summer in rural Norfolk eighty years ago when she fell in love with Edmondo, and the stolen moments spent in the orchard dreaming of their future. But tears fill her green eyes when she also remembers the September morning they embraced as they listened to war being declared on the wireless. As her village turned against Edmondo and his Italian family, Ruby knew she would be forced to make an impossible choice – one that would lead to a betrayal her heart never recovered from, and an earth-shattering secret she has never shared…
But when lonely Ruby decides to take part in a letter-writing scheme for the elderly, and single mother Cassie replies, she realises this could be her chance. Her last chance. By revisiting her past, can she finally share the secret that has haunted her for all these years? And will her unexpected connection with Cassie unearth truths even Ruby never knew were hidden – or will it tear both their lives apart?
This totally gripping and irresistible story of wartime love and heartbreak will captivate readers who love Lorna Cook, Fiona Valpy and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
Sarah Mitchell grew up in Norfolk and studied law at Cambridge University. She practised as a barrister in London for nearly 20 years before turning to writing. Sarah and her husband now live in beautiful North Norfolk with three almost-grown-up children, an extremely affectionate dog and a horse called Joey. Her debut novel, THE LOST LETTERS, was inspired by her parents’ experiences in the Second World War and her desire to explore the heart-breaking impact of the war on women and children. By contrast, THE COUPLE is a dark psychological thriller that twins themes of right and wrong with the age-old complication of an all-consuming past love. Her third novel, THE ENGLISH GIRL is a story inspired by an incredible true love story, a beautiful, sweeping tale of hope, courage and heart-breaking choices. Now, her fourth novel, LETTERS TO A STRANGER, explores themes of love, betrayal and redemption, through the eyes of young Ruby Summers who is forced to make an impossible decision when Italy joins the Second World War and her village turns against the love of her life.