1939: The Last Season by Anne de Courcy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I have always had a fascination with the time between the wars; I grew up hearing firsthand about what it was like to grow up in that time from my grandmother and her sister. This book takes me back to all of that; the women described here put me so much in mind of them.
DeCourcy begins innocently enough, describing the diaphanous lives of the young ladies of England's upper class all a-flutter at being presented to the King and Queen on the occasion of their society debuts. We read of sumptuous menus, daring beaus, exhausted chaperones, and too much champagne. Intertwined with the furs and music, however, is the growing threat of war, and so skillfully does she shift the narrative from the silly-young dance floor to the deadly Axis threats, that we hardly notice how imminent the danger has become.
The pathos is in the fact that life did indeed go on throughout the spring and summer of 1939. Traditions were observed as always, people took their usual holidays, wrote letters, dined, and danced. But they also gathered food, bought sturdy clothing, and made arrangements for their children and pets should the worst happen.
Of course it ends simply with a transcript of the King's radio address informing his subjects that England is at war with Germany (have tissues ready at the end; it's difficult). We know the rest. How beautiful that last summer must have been to savor in the dark days that followed, and that is the reason to read this book-- it describes beautifully the very last months of an era that is gone forever and cherished by the few left who remember.
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