Christmas In Paris
by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb is a unique story. A word
of warning, it is not a “sugar and spice and everything
nice” novel. The story is very authentic as it covers
the triumphs and tribulations that affected the civilian life
and those on the battlefield. Yet, it leaves the reader with
a good feeling as the book ends with a sentiment of hope.
The love and romantic scenes are a great balance against the
horrors of the Great War.
What makes this book stand out is that the story of World
War I is told predominantly in letters and telegrams. The
primary letter authors are Evie, Alice, Will, and Thomas.
The latter three tell of the tragedies of war: Alice an ambulance
driver, Will and Thomas on the front lines, while Evie, represents
the civilian population. She if filled with worry, dread,
depression, and fear for her loved ones. The writings also
show how the attitudes changed through the course of the war.
In the beginning the letters are full of excitement, a sense
of adventure, pride and thoughts that the war won't last long,
yet, as it becomes evident that it will not be over by Christmas,
the correspondence becomes more serious and speaks of the
atrocities and hardships. Because Evie was not content to
sit idly she writes a newspaper column about the war effort
and the feelings of those left behind, as well as those fighting
on the frontlines.
Gaynor describes her as “ambitious, spunky, unconventional,
and strong-willed. She had no intention to just marry someone,
but wanted to play a pivotal role in the War. This is why
we had her write a newspaper column like the famous American
journalist Nellie Bly. WWI was the event that changed roles
for women. She was trying to find her voice and was talking
to the female readers, much like a wartime Dear Abby.”
Through the letters between Evie and Alice readers learn how
the women took over the male-dominated jobs from delivering
the mail, to driving ambulances, being a part of the Auxiliary
Corps, and even writing newspaper articles.
Webb noted, “There is a scene in the book where Thomas,
Evie’s best friend who she is in love with, writes that
she should not come to the frontlines. He says, ‘I don’t
want you here amid the gloom and gore. It isn’t the
place for someone like you and won’t be good for you.’
Of course she responds, ‘Your letter disappoints me.
That you believe a woman has no place in this war…Do
all men believe that women are incapable? Must I return to
the knitting of comforts and bide my time like a good girl?’
We intentionally had her sign it as Evelyn, not Evie. She
was furious with Tom with an attitude, ‘no sweet pet
names for you, butthole.’ We also wanted to show that
when not communicating directly and only in writing there
can be misunderstandings. The reason he was so upset and angry
with her had nothing to do with her being a woman. But, rather
everything to do with her safety.”
But the exchanges also spoke of the horrific issues of the
war. PTSD was either called shell shock or war neurosis and
the men diagnosed were considered weak-minded. A powerful
quote explains how many thought of these men as faking or
frauds. “They walk on both legs without the use of crutches.
They swing both arms by their sides. They have no need for
facemasks to hide their injuries. These men suffer an entirely
different way. They suffer in their minds. The horrors they
have seen and the endless sounds they have endured night after
night stay with them.”
But the war also penetrated those on the home front. The Scarborough
raid by the Germans seemed to be a practice run for the blitzkrieg
done in WWII. The Germans killed seventeen innocent civilians
including women and children with ninety minutes of shelling.
Today snail mail is almost a forgotten form of communication,
but if not for it people would not get a grasp of earlier
historical events. This story shows how the letter writing
was an emotional form of communication between the characters,
showing the culture of the times, the romantic relationship,
and how the characters used the letters as a release mechanism.
But they mostly showed how letters and the written word are
so very powerful.
More than anything this novel is a reminder that not everyone
has complete joy during the Christmas holiday, that there
are those who have lost loved ones, with war affecting every
aspect of someone’s life, including on Christmas where
some families have chairs left empty. Readers see World War
I through the eyes of these four characters and exhibit the
same emotions of enthusiasm, denial, despair, and eventually
love. It is a heartwarming and heartbreaking story of victory
and loss during World War I.
of other titles by Gaynor
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