cover image I Gave My Heart to Know This

I Gave My Heart to Know This

Ellen Baker. Random, $26 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6636-0

Baker (Keeping the House) mixes past and present, love and loss, forgiveness and renewal in this sensitive cross-generational story of the lingering effects of WWII. As part of the war effort, Grace Anderson works as a welder in a Wisconsin shipyard along with her friend Lena Maki, and Lena's mother, Violet. But a woman's role also means writing letters to the boys overseas, boosting their morale and making promises for the future. Grace gets entangled in multiple love-letter affairs when Lena is desperate to give her twin brother, Derrick, hope, and Grace cooperates even though she is already committed to her high school sweetheart, Alex. Adding to her confusion is Joe, a railroad worker sent home with rheumatic fever, who is conveniently present and available. As the war grimly drags on, Grace's choice is sadly made for her. Fast forward to modern-day Wisconsin, when Lena's granddaughter, Julia, living at the family farm, distracts herself from her own recent loss by tracking Grace and Lena through old letters and photographs. As Julia tries to piece together their scattered history and repair her relationship with her own brother, Danny, WWII looms large as a character. Reminiscent of both A.S. Byatt's Possession and "Rosie the Riveter," Baker is at her best describing a bone-deep cold Lake Superior and the lives of the women who labored over ships as a rare but powerful part of history. (Aug.)