Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Review: GI Brides by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi

When you think of the quick marriages that happen in wartime, you probably think of the marriages that took place before a soldier shipped out, marriages between people who already had a relationship and speeded it up to suit the short time frame they had. But in actual fact, there were many WWII marriages that were slightly different than this, if no less quick. Those very different wartime marriages were the ones between American soldiers and young British women they met when they were sent to England for training before heading to the European theater. Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi follow four of these GI brides into their marriages and their lives afterwards in their new book, GI Brides: The Wartime Girls Who Crossed the Atlantic for Love.

Alternating chapters between Sylvia, Gwendolyn (Lyn), Rae, and Margaret, the book follows the four women more or less chronologically as they each join the war effort in their own way, as they meet and are courted by American soldiers, as they make the decision to marry, and then as they leave Britain after the war to follow their husbands to their new homes across an ocean. Each of the women marries for reasons as unique as she is, from falling in love to an accidental pregnancy. What they all have in common though, is how little they actually know the men whom they marry and the loneliness of moving thousands of miles from friends and family.

Barrett and Calvi do a good job showing the road blocks the women faced from just getting permission to marry, to finding transport to America, to the suspicions they faced once in the US, to the hardships of adjusting to marriage with a relative stranger. And they contrast the idea of America as a land of prosperity and plenty with the hard and unhappy adjustment these very young women have to make when expectations hit a wall of not always pleasant reality. One of the brides endures abuse, one is viewed with suspicion and unkindness by her husband's family members, one discovers that her husband is an alcoholic, one contracts polio, one's husband is an unrepentant womanizer. What had looked like happier pairings in the days of war when everyone was grabbing at whatever happiness they could find turned into rocky marriages and generally difficult and lonely lives as expats for the four women.

The women's stories are told in third person omniscient, an odd choice for a non-fiction work as it reads more like fiction. And although the stories are the result of interviews and oral histories, that narrative perspective causes the reader to wonder how much of it is straight truth and how much embellished. The narrative structure flipping from one woman to another each chapter does make it difficult to keep each woman's life separate and her experiences firmly within her story. Just as the brides blur together, so do the husbands. And although these are just four of the thousands of women who came over to this country as war brides, they are a sad cross-sampling given how most of their marriages turned out. Over all, the book is an interesting one and it showed another side of the results of WWII but it doesn't feel as representative of all GI Brides as it might have had there been a bit more variation.

For more information about Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi and the book, check out their website, or take a look at the book's page on GoodReads. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.


  1. Impulsive marriages are rarely a good thing (I know from experience). But in war time, I cannot say that I would not have done the same thing.

  2. My grandparents met while my Grandpa was recovering from his injuries in England after D-Day. She moved to America after the war to marry him. I love reading stories that are similar to theirs!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.


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