As World War II rages across Europe and the Pacific, its impact ripples through communities in the heartland of America. A farm girl is locked in a dangerous love triangle with two Germans soldiers held in an Illinois POW camp ... Another German, a war refugee, is forced to risk her life spying on the developing Manhattan Project in Chicago ... And espionage surrounds the disappearance of an actress from the thriving Jewish community of Chicago’s Lawndale. In this trio of tales, acclaimed thriller author Libby Fischer Hellmann beautifully depicts the tumultuous effect of war on the home front and illustrates how the action, terror, and tragedy of World War II was not confined to the front lines.
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Three short stories set during WWII!
War, Spies and Bobby Sox by Libby Fischer Hellman contains three stories about life in America during World War II. The Incidental Spy is the first story (and the longest). Lena Bentheim is in love with Josef in Berlin, Germany in 1935. But Lena is only sixteen years old and her parents believe she would be better off in America. Lena is send to Chicago, Illinois to live with her cousin (who is like an aunt to her) Ursula. There she learns English and secretarial skills. Lena gets a job with the physics department at the University of Chicago. She meets and falls in love with Karl Stern who becomes involved in the nuclear weapons project. Life soon takes a dangerous turn for Lena, and she must decide where her loyalties lay. P.O.W. is the second story and revolves around Mary Catherine O’Rourke who lives on her family farm outside Chicago. The local German POWs are brought to the farm to help with the apple harvest. Reinhard Deschler catches Mary Catherine’s eye. Nothing but trouble can follow. The final story is The Day Miriam Hirsch Disappeared. The story tells of what happens to a beautiful Yiddish actress in Chicago’s Lawndale community.
War, Spies and Bobby Sox is well-written and has a good pace. I found the first two stories to be engaging (they held my attention). The scientific “stuff” in The Incidental Spy was not for me (regarding the discovery of nuclear weapons), but you can do what I did and skim over it. I do, though, wish the author had focused on stories that showcased women’s strengths and their accomplishments during World War II (the first one does in the end). Instead, we get to see how women lead with their heart instead of their mind (Mary Catherine is a woman who makes many wrong choices). I give War, Spies and Bobby Sox 4 out of 5 stars. It is nice to see a different aspect of World War II. Many people do not know that we had POW camps (German and Italian) in the United States and the soldiers worked on local farms. The author did a very good job with the history from that time-period. War, Spies and Bobby Sox are stories that many readers will enjoy reading. I believe I am just burned out on stories from this era.
POWs in the US in WWII?? Who knew?
WAR, SPIES & BOBBY SOX: STORIES ABOUT WORLD WAR II AT HOME by Libby Fischer Hellman is a trio of historical stories about the effect of war on the home front. WWII has always been a fascinating topic to me but it was all about the battlefields, Hitler, and my mother’s and grandmother’s innocent home front stories about rationing and volunteering and writing letters to “our boys.” It certainly was not about spies or secret meetings or POW camps down the road from us in Illinois.
The author writes that WWII was the last time there was such clarity between good and evil. I agree, but as I read these three stories, that clarity became a little blurry. These stories aren’t about fighting in some far off land, but rather about individuals that could have been our neighbors – or us – and what happens when difficult decisions have to be made and that line between good and evil isn’t quite so clear. What if a German refugee was forced to spy on the early years of the Manhattan Project in Chicago? What if an inexperienced, unsatisfied young farm girl finds herself in close proximity to men she should not be drawn to? What if suspicious events are happening in your own neighborhood but the word espionage isn’t even part of your vocabulary and you don’t know what these events mean or what, if anything, you should do about them?
I have long been a fan of Libby Fischer Hellman’s work so I had high expectations for this compilation and I was not disappointed. The Incidental Spy was, in fact, the first story I read by her and it was just as powerful and compelling this time around. Lena’s life is hard. She is forced to leave her home, her parents, and her love in Nazi Germany to live in safety with her aunt in the United States. She does eventually settle in to her new home, and finds rewarding, meaningful work, and love again. Life is good. But things don’t always go as we wish and Lena still has more to endure. She is a strong, resourceful woman and she is determined to survive whatever life throws her way, but it’s not easy. She has to make some tough choices, and Libby Fischer Hellman builds the suspense and keeps us wondering until the very end.
POW showed a side effect of the war that most of us probably never even realized existed. Even though her father is away fighting and those are actual POWs in the nearby camp, Mary Catherine is just a young girl helping her mother. The war isn’t a part of her everyday life. This story is about feelings and possible actions and consequences. Again, very powerful and compelling.
The last story in the trio, The Day Miriam Hirsch Disappeared, takes place in the late ‘30s as the country geared up to fight Hitler. Espionage surrounds the disappearance of an actress from the thriving Jewish community of Chicago’s Lawndale, but the main characters, Jacob and Barney, are like the rest of us and don’t have any perspective for events they think they understand but really do not. Very thought provoking and more than a little scary.
The stories may be short, but the characters are well developed and believable, and even though there are no tanks or machine guns or bombers there are battlefields, as well as suspense and tragedy. The stories open your eyes and make you think and will stay in your mind. I highly recommend this book along with everything else Libby Fischer Hellman has written.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review but I also purchased a copy for my library.
Another great book by Hellman! She makes you feel as though you are there living the story along with the characters. These stories bring to life events of World War Two here at home that one never hears much about. A book that is hard to put down until completed.