Grand Central – Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion
I ordered Grand Central – Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion, because it features stories by Amanda Hodgkinson, author of the novels 22 Britannia Road and Spilt Milk, and Alyson Richman, author of The Lost Wife, among others. Reading a collection such as this also introduces us to authors whose work we may not be familiar with.
The stories all take place in Grand Central Terminal in New York City on a single day in September 1945, and then move on into the lives of the characters as they find their way in a post war world full of expectations and ghosts of the past.
The first story by Alyson Richman describes the rotunda of Grand Central Terminal, it’s spectacular blue ceiling with zodiac signs outlined in gold leaf, the clock at it’s centre where countless travellers, including those in these stores “meet me under the clock”.
There are wives and girlfriends who after several years alone are meeting a man who has been fighting in Europe, coming home perhaps changed beyond recognition, wondering what the future will hold and if there is still a reason to attempt to make a life together. There are some who have found love elsewhere and dread the expectation of a happy reunion. There are children, some who have never known their fathers, some whose fathers are not who they appear to be, others who are old enough to know that the father they have dreamed of may not be able to live up to the image of that dream father.
Anyone who has spent time in New York has probably eaten in the Oyster Bar at Grand Central with its vaulted ceiling of Gustavo tiles set in a herringbone pattern. Some enjoy oysters raw in the shell, others those perfectly deep fried delights. One story features a man who has survived the death camps, has come to America and found work in the Oyster Bar. The tattoo on his arm costs him his job, no one in these heady postwar days wants this constant reminder of the horrors of the holocaust. I remember explaining to my children why the merchants in Kensington Market, and some of my husband’s old aunties, had tattoos on their wrists. While reading this story I realized why I have such an abhorrence of the current popular trend of people acquiring tattoos. The connotation for me screams concentration camps and Nazi Germany.
We visit the Biltmore Room, known as the kissing room, with stairs that once led up to the Biltmore Hotel, meeting a nervous young woman who may choose to change her life irrevocably. We have stories about musicians and the power of music to evoke memory – and to heal.
I have to admit that I expected this book to be bathtub fluff – and was surprised to find that it contains stories that are not only serious, but sometimes profound. There are stories about people who lost their whole family in concentration camps, others who have left behind their family to make a new life in America while never really leaving the old world behind.
Each of the authors included in this collection were commissioned to write a story especially for this book, so we have a lovely connection between some stories, where one writer has included a character created by another in her own story. An altogether lovely way to spend a cold winter’s day – with a good book.