I am a regular reader of a blog called, Random Jottings of a Book and Opera Lover. It is written by an erudite and witty woman named Elaine. She writes an eclectic array of posts but her focus is on book reviews. She is an avid reader. One happy benefit of reading her blog, besides enjoying her writing and getting leads on some great books; is that she sometimes holds drawings with books as prizes. I am the lucky winner of one such drawing for Kisses on a Postcard by Terence Frisby. As I recall the conditions for winning were that you needed to read the book, love it, and post about it. No problem. I read it. I loved it. Here is my post about it.
Kisses is one of those rare books that takes you back to childhood and yet by the strangeness of the childhood you experience it in a whole new way. As the subtitle of the book tells us, it is "A Tale of Wartime Childhood" being Terence Frisby's memories of his evacuation from London to Cornwall during World War II. To me the book had the wonderful tone reminiscent of the movie "How Green Was My Valley". (I'm wishing that I had read that book now, by the way.) Terence went on to a career as a playwright and actor/director/producer which completely explains the gifted way he was able to evoke the era, describe the scenery, and present the unique characters of Cornwall. The music of their speech echoed in my head and I was able to visualize the time and place even though I have never been there. It was a multi-sensory experience. Words fail me, as I try to describe how well he was able to take me (a forty-nine year old Midwesterner) and drop me in rural England during the war.
The story is this: Terry and his older brother Jack are sent into the countryside of England at the start of World War II, along with thousands of other children of that time. Because their parents have no idea where they will end up or with whom, Mrs. Frisby invents a kisses code for the postcard they will send when they get to wherever they end up. One kiss if it's bad, two if it's okay, three kisses if it's good. If it's bad, she promised to come and get them right away. After ending up in Cornwall, chosen by Auntie Rose and Uncle Jack, (who works for the railroad just like their dad) Jack and Terry send the postcard back to their mother with kisses all around the card. They were motivated by their happiness in their placement with Auntie Rose and Uncle Jack and a unusually thoughtful streak for boys of that age (7 and 11), they wanted to ease the minds of their mother and father back in London.
What follows is a engaging recollection of the three years that Terence Frisby spent in Doublebois, Cornwall. It is about War from the perspective of a child, as well as, his interactions with an array of the village inhabitants--complete with their flaws, inner sadnesses and their kindnesses. I'm not fond of crying while reading--but I have to say when the lump started in my throat and the tears filled by eyes, it was worth it. I was fascinated that the Terry who made sure there were kisses around the postcard, still groused about having to write a weekly letter to his mother, and was the tender-hearted boy who tries to arrange with his brother Jack that one of them should stay behind to live with Auntie Rose and Uncle Jack after it became time to return to live with their parents in London. Neither boy wanted to see Auntie Rose and Uncle Jack left alone, you see.
Perhaps the best sign of how enchanting this book was to me, I didn't want it to end. As Jack and Terry got on the train and waved goodbye to Auntie Rose and Uncle Jack, I wanted the story to continue. I wanted to learn how Jack and Terry would handle living once again with their parents after three years with foster parents who perhaps had different behavioral expectations. How did they handle being in suburban London after three years in the spacious outdoor cathedral that Terry described as Cornwall? How did Terry become an author? What career did Jack follow? Did Terry and Jack get to see Auntie Rose and Uncle Jack again? If Mr. Frisby writes the next part of his autobiography, I am so there. You should be too.