A Bridge Across the Ocean
Reading the synopsis for A Bridge Across the Ocean, one can’t help but approach the book with the highest of expectations. A story that spans decades and crosses continents, it contains all the elements of a page-turner – wartime intrigue, a seventy-year-old mystery, even a touch of the paranormal. And for the most part, it delivers. With a very strong first half that deftly introduces us to three heroines from different eras and backgrounds, A Bridge Across the Ocean kept me engrossed until the final third, when a dip in the quality of the writing and a deus ex machina drove the final grade down a notch. Still, it’s an entertaining novel with likable characters set against one of my favorite historical backdrops. Readers who like historical fiction set during World War II will want to give it a look.
In the winter of 1946, Simone Robinson, a French war bride, is on her way to New York to be reunited with her husband Everett. She, along with the hundreds of other brides aboard the RMS Queen Mary, is looking forward to starting a new life in America. What she is not so keen on is sharing a cabin with Katrine Sawyer, a fellow Belgian war bride with a thick German accent. Katrine attributes her accent to growing up near the Belgian-German borders, but that doesn’t stop the other women from ostracizing her and not wanting to be reminded of the loss they have suffered at the hands of the Germans.
As it turns out, the other women have good reason to be wary, for Katrine is not who she says is. She is actually Annalise Lange, a German national trying to escape an abusive marriage. When Annalise’s secret gets out before they can dock in New York, an altercation results between Annalise and Simone. And by the time the Queen Mary pulls into the New York harbor, only Simone will disembark. But what happened to Annalise? Did she really jump overboard for fear of being sent back to Germany, as eye witnesses claim, or is the truth much more sinister than that?
What happened to Annalise on that day long ago becomes the mystery Brette Caslake seems destined to solve as she steps aboard the RMS Queen Mary – now a floating hotel and museum – one sunny morning in 2016. Born with the gift of sight, Brette is contacted by an unseen apparition whom she believes to be Annalise’s spirit. Her search for the truth behind Annalise’s death will lead her on a physical and emotional journey as she seeks to bring justice to a young girl while coming to terms with her ability to communicate with the dead.
For most of the book, the narrative jumps between Simone’s and Annalise’s lives during the war, their encounters on the Queen Mary, and Brette’s efforts to find out what happened to Annalise in the present-day. The non-linear storytelling takes away some of the suspense – as we are told very early on where the war is going to take Simone and Annalise – but that’s a minor quibble considering how much I enjoyed Simone’s and Annalise’s stories. From Annalise’s forced marriage to an officer of the Third Reich to Simone’s escape from Paris as fugitive of the Nazis, the author skillfully brings to life the struggles of these two courageous women against a backdrop of real-life historical events. I especially enjoyed reading about the experiences of the war brides as they eagerly await their journey across the Atlantic. Equally fascinating, if less joyful, are the fear and paranoia that led Annalise’s parents to make the kind of decisions that will ultimately have devastating ramifications for their daughter. The lives of ordinary German citizens during World War II is a topic not often explored in historical fiction and I really appreciated the author’s fresh take on this oft-ignored slice of history.
Of our three heroines, Brette is the most fleshed-out. Having spent most of her life pretending that her unique ability doesn’t exist, her struggle to appear ‘normal’ is something we can all relate to. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the mystery portion of the plot nearly as well-told, which made the present-day chapters just a tad weaker. The big reveal about the ghost’s identity is a bit of a cop out, and the writing in these sections also tends to veer a little too much towards histrionics for my taste.
Overall, A Bridget Across the Ocean is a well-written tale of courage and overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. Despite its flaws, the stories of Brette, Simone, and Annalise stayed with me long after I turned the final page and for that, I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in books that feature strong women and authentic period settings.
I discovered my first romance novel at the age of 12 when I accidentally picked up a Harlequin (or was it Silhouette?) title from the library. Since then, I've mostly gravitated towards historical romance and more recently, urban fantasies. I live in the Washington DC area with a cat and the biggest Star Wars nerd this side of Tatooine.