As year two of Read With Jenna quickly comes to an end, a lot of Read With Jenna members have been asking for a historical fiction pick. For February 2021, the Read With Jenna book club has two options to dive into, "Send For Me" by Lauren Fox and "The Four Winds" by Kristin Hannah.
"In searching for a book that was beautifully written and captured the times, a New York Times book editor recommended that I read 'Send For Me' by Lauren Fox," said Jenna. "I think I read it in two days."
"Send for Me," by Lauren Fox
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Set in pre-World War II Germany and modern-day Wisconsin, this novel is a nuanced story about what we will do for our family. Annelise is a young Jewish woman living in Feldenheim, Germany, as anti-Semitic sentiments were on the rise. She has an opportunity to escape to America with her husband and young daughter but in doing so would be forced to leave her own parents behind.
Two generations later, in a small Midwestern city, Annelise's granddaughter, Clare, stumbles upon a collection of her grandmother's letters. The novel moves between the two women’s stories as each makes impossible and heartbreaking choices.
"I grew up in a really close family and I knew my family's history, that my mother and grandparents had come from Germany in 1938, and that they had left a lot of their family behind, but they didn’t really talk about the story," said Fox.
It wasn't until she discovered a box of over 70 letters that her great-grandmother had written from Germany to her grandmother in Milwaukee that she fully understood her family members' plight.
After getting the letters translated from German to English, Fox sat with the story for a long time while she tried to determine the best way to tell it.
"I initially approached it as a memoir but it didn’t really work," said Fox. "It took me a long time to figure out that it was meant to be a novel."
The author said she returned to the story when it came to light that families were being separated at the border.
"Those images and stories were so horrific. Nobody could reconcile them. That was the moment that I thought this story is so relevant," said Fox.
Within the book, she includes several lines and short paragraphs taken directly from her great-grandmother's letters.
"I’ve read so many books set in this time period leading up to World War II but this one felt really raw and fresh," said Jenna.
"The Four Winds," by Kristin Hannah
For the first time in her book club’s history, Jenna also asked a group of club members to help her pick a book.
"They picked 'The Four Winds' by Kristin Hannah," said Jenna. "Kristin Hannah is a beautiful writer. I loved her 2015 book, 'The Nightingale.'"
In 1921 Texas, Elsa Wolcott has been deemed too old for marriage. With her reputation in ruin, she marries a man she considers to be her last hope, Rafe Martinelli. More than 10 years later, the country is sliding into depression and the Great Plains that were previously bountiful have been destroyed by drought. Elsa uses her fierce inner strength to beat heartbreak, suffering and starvation to save her children’s lives.
"This is my 24th novel and she is really my favorite character of all time," said Hannah. "This idea of a woman who was sort of told she was no good, had no self-esteem, did not believe in herself. To take this character and put her front and center through all of these difficult times and make her discover her voice along the way and sort of grow into her own power and ultimately to get to a place where she felt so strong and so confident that she could use her voice on behalf of people other than herself and her children."
Hannah said that she wanted this book to be the American version of "Nightingale," which was about the women of the French Resistance during World War II France.
"I really wanted to write a book about Americans and about the people I knew and about my grandparents' generation and that led me to the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl because it's this time of great hardship in America and yet we survived and I think it’s important to return women to their place in that narrative," said Hannah.
As Elsa fights for survival, she experiences isolation and loneliness that many people are facing today. Hannah admits she had no idea how relevant the book would be when she started writing it four years ago.
"I think it's just a reminder that what is past is prologue," said Hannah. "We can learn so much from our own history. I really think that the message of 'The Four Winds' today, in this moment, is a reminder of the strength of the human spirit and our ability to survive."
Both books center around strong female characters living through extremely difficult moments in history.
"Choosing two historical fictions for February was not intentional but it definitely emphasizes our readers' desire to explore this genre," said Jenna.
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For more book recommendations, check out:
- 13 questions to consider after reading 'Black Buck' by Mateo Askaripour
- Try this reading scavenger hunt for Jenna's latest book club pick, 'Black Buck'
- 5 books to read if you enjoyed 'Black Buck' by Mateo Askaripour
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