A Star for Mrs. Blake
Twenty-five years in the writing, A Star for Mrs. Blake, by April Smith is based on the real-life diaries of Colonel Thomas Hammond. Colonel Hammond was the liaison officer to the Gold Star Mothers who visited the graves of their sons at the Meuse-Argonne cemetery in France after WWI.
The story primarily revolves around five Gold Star Mothers and their journey to France to say goodbye to the sons they lost in the war. There is Minnie, an immigrant Jewish chicken farmer; Bobbie, a Boston socialite; Katie, an Irish Catholic maid; Wilhelmina, a former tennis star who is in precarious mental health; and of course our main protagonist, Cora Blake, a single mother and librarian who also works in a fish canning factory to make ends meet. There is one other mother whom we meet briefly and sadly, never hear from again, and that is a Black woman named Selma Russell who due to an error, found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. As you can imagine, sparks will fly between this disparate group of people despite their common pilgrimage.
We also meet liaison officer Colonel Thomas Hammond, and nurse Lily who takes care of the women’s health issues throughout their journey. And let’s not forget ex-patriot, Griffin Reed who hides behind a metal mask due to his own war injuries, whose presence has a surprising impact on Cora.
As you can see, there is a large cast of characters who have to be dealt with, and each one has to have a history which the author covers in quite a bit of detail, much of it I felt, was unnecessary, and slowed the story down at times.
While preparing to write this reflection, I looked up the Gold Star Mothers on-line and came across a picture of some of the women who actually made the trip to France to visit their sons and I was moved by their faces. Somehow, the story became more real for me. I cannot imagine what it would be like to lose my son in a war. Certainly, I understand that war is necessary sometimes for the higher good, but when you read about how these men, these sons of mothers, who were, at times considered dispensable, an acceptable casualty percentage in the game of war, I shudder.
April Smith does a good job giving us varied perspectives in this story of the Gold Star Mothers. We get to watch as each of the mother’s come to terms with their son’s death and ultimate healing. Griffin Reed’s story unfolds as he struggles to deal with his life without a face. We meet General Reginald Perkins who is more concerned with what looks good, than what’s right. Thomas Hammond, begins to question his place in the army. And finally nurse Lily, who becomes a casualty herself in the midst of the unfolding drama.
I must commend Smith for her dedication and for the time it took to write this book. In it, we are reminded that war has a ripple effect that is felt for years to come by those who are left behind. It also reminds us of a mother’s courage, who through generations of war, has had to give up a son(s) in the name of freedom.