Bookworm, writer, radio host—I blog about history, fiction, and publishing in the Internet Age. You can find the full blog on my website. This space is for books.
Many novels look at World War II–what happened, why it happened, how the world would have changed if the war had never occurred or had taken a different course. In The Cherry Harvest (William Morrow, 2015), Lucy Sanna approaches World War II from a different perspective: its impact on farming communities in the Midwest and the little-known history of German prisoners of war brought for confinement to the United States.
By May 1944, Charlotte Christiansen has reached the end of her rope. The cherry harvest of 1943 has rotted on the tree because the migrant laborers who once worked on her farm have found better-paying jobs in factories. Charlotte has been reduced to butchering her daughter's prized rabbits in secret and trading eggs and milk for meat if she is to feed her family. But the local country store has canceled her line of credit, and if she and her husband cannot find enough workers to pick the 1944 harvest, they will lose everything they have. So when Charlotte learns that the U.S. government will send German prisoners of war into rural communities to bring in the crops, she urges the local county board to, in the words of one member, make "a bargain with the devil."
The prisoners defy the farmers' worst expectations. Some of them deny any adherence to the Nazi cause; some are barely out of their teens; one, obviously educated and cultured, speaks English well enough to develop a friendship with Charlotte's family. The community's resistance to their presence gradually ebbs. Then Charlotte's son returns from fighting the Nazis, only to find them harvesting cherries in his own back yard.
In this beautifully written and poignant story, Lucy Sanna explores the complexity of love and loyalty in a world where even the distant echoes of war prove impossible to ignore.
You can hear the interview at New Books in Historical Fiction.