Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Last Telegram by Liz Trenow

The Last Telegram by Liz Trenow
Sourcebooks Landmark
ISBN: 978-1402279454
Published April 2, 2013
Trade paperback, 416 pages

Set in England, we follow Lily, an elderly woman having just lost her husband of fifty-five years, who now dares to allow herself to reminisce to the time when she was a young woman weaving colorful silk in her father's mill while her country was at the brink of WWII. It was an emotional time of great loss for Lily who has carried guilt for years and never disclosed any of her past life with her children or grandchildren. It's a story about independence, forbidden love, the losses of war and learning to forgive oneself of past mistakes. Most of the novel takes place in the past and once that story took off I became very absorbed in this book.

The author's family have been silk weavers for nearly 300 years and her first-hand knowledge of silk weaving is obvious as she describes the process, which is fascinating, and showed how war made a difference for owners of such companies who had to improvise to stay afloat. The element of silk production also made for a very unique plot. I knew silk was a wonderful fiber but learning how strong, fine and lustrous it is, originating from silkworms that produce it to make their cocoons, increased my respect for nature's wonders.

Lily was a complex character, both strong and vulnerable as she navigated the yearning of youth at a time of fear and uncertainty. I liked her and her family, both for how they handled situations that came up because of the war, such as taking in three Jewish German teenaged boys who had come to England's countryside for safeguarding from the Nazis. Things became complicated when England declares war with Germany and everyone is afraid of spies. This puts the boys in danger and creates heartbreak for Lily who has fallen in love with one of them.

The romance in this novel took me back to my teenage years, and my heart broke for Lily when her love became forbidden because of the circumstances caused by the war. Her mother also suffers a nervous breakdown and she finds solace with Gwen, her friend who is also the assistant weaving floor manager at the mill. Gwen is a great character, kind, hardworking, and loyal. She is also a lesbian who hopes her relationship with Lily will become more than just friends. It doesn't.

I like the way the book ends. How the new generation--Lily's granddaughter--actually helps her grandmother heal. This book is rich in bringing out the power of relationships, whether parental, filial or romantic. The author, who has transitioned from journalistic writing to fiction, has written a stunning debut novel, which I found atmospheric, emotional, and satisfying.

Note: This book is rated P = profanity, including religious expletives and 5 f-bombs. Rated S = sexual content for a few sex scenes. Not too explicit.

Reviewed by Laura

Disclosure: Thanks to Beth Pehlke from Sourcebooks for sending me this book for review. I was not compensated in any other way, nor told how to rate or review this product.

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