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Jack Woodville London’s French Letters series has been praised for its meticulous historical research and ability to capture the language, attitudes, and moral culture of their setting in prose described by reviewers as “beautiful, but not pretentious.”
French Letters: Engaged in War is the second volume in the French Letters trilogy. The companion to French Letters: Virginia’s War, it is the story of Will Hastings, an army doctor caught up in the D-Day landings in Normandy and the drive to capture St. Lo, France.
Where there’s a Will
Colleville sur Mer, France
(Photograph taken by Ian and Wendy)
The American military cemetery at Colleville is humbling, a vast, quiet, immaculate resting place for thousands of young men. Alice and I went to Colleville, to Ste. Mere Eglise, and to the Cotentin Peninsula and it changed us. I served in the Army as a Quartermaster Officer during 1970 – 1973. Between the Army and work and a sense of duty we have been to Washington DC, to New York and the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, to the Golden Gate and post-Katrina New Orleans. Nothing, absolutely nothing, makes me feel more like an American than to be in Colleville sur Mer. The stories about ‘the French hate us’ are absolutely hogwash; stop to chat with anyone in Ste. Mere or St. Laurent, wander through the farms of Normandy, and you will quickly learn that, as an American, you are an honored visitor.
I don’t know when Ian and Wendy took the cemetery photograph but it recalls the wind rustling through the trees on the edge of a cliff that had to be scaled by young Americans in their first day of battle. It reminds me of tears leaking down my face at the base of crosses and Stars of David for men whose family names were completely unknown to me.
It made me believe that French Letters had to be written before World War II becomes World War I, a jumble of generals and battle names soon forgotten after the last widow of the last soldier has died and no one personally remembers anyone who had any involvement in it.
French Letters: Will is the sequel to French Letters: Virginia’s War, and it is coming along quite nicely. I was asked in an interview (Romance Reviews Today) “What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?” Answer: “I create maps of the scenes, then print them and use them for reference. Virginia’s hometown is sitting in my manuscript, completely drawn out, as is the village and chateau in France where Will does his service.”
Will is an Army doctor whose field hospital is right behind the lines as the battle moves toward St. Lo during the same weeks that things are unfolding in Tierra in Virginia’s War. His story is a war story in the same way that Virginia’s War is a war story, a battle within himself in the middle of something so large that he is blown about in it with no idea how to take his life back, just as happened to all the Wills and the Virginias who lived through it then, and are dying now.
It is one more story in the book of our parents and, eventually, of who we are.
Thanks for reading.