Saturday, October 17, 2015

THE CHERRY HARVEST BY LUCY SANNA

When I saw a copy of THE CHERRY HARVEST in a Bayfield, WI bookstore window, I knew I wanted to read it-- another case of a gorgeous cover and an intriguing blurb. Sanna's first novel (Lucy Sanna splits her time between San Francisco and Madison,WI), is set in Door County during WWII back when cherry orchards outnumbered the hotels and no one had ever heard of condos.  With the strong young men off serving their country and even migrant workers in short supply, the 1943 cherry crop on Charlotte and Thomas Christiansen's homestead was never picked.  Now as spring 1944 approaches, Charlotte knows she, her husband, and their teenage daughter must have help or face another failed crop.  The cupboards are bare, no more store credit is available, and only a few chickens, rabbits, and some goat's milk keep the family from hunger.

When the idea emerges to use German POW's as farm workers, Charlotte accepts the idea even though their own son daily fights the Nazis in Italy.  Even her neighbors who are extremely vocal about their fears and opposition do not deter her resolve, and soon a workers' camp is set up on their farm. Readers will quickly assess the differences among the Christiansen family.  Although a dutiful daughter, teenage Kate already has her heart set on life after Door County.  Her dreams of next year when she will be a freshman at UW-Madison and living in a dorm. Thomas, a reluctant farmer who left behind his own studies in Madison to return to the land which had been settled by his family in 1860, still has poetry in his heart.  Wife Charlotte seems to keep hidden the daily struggles she faces to keep food on the table, and it appears that the hardships of the war have hit her the hardest.  Despite his carefully edited letters home, son Ben is never far from her heart and her worries.

Then the German POWs arrive, and with them, a summer that changes everything on the picturesque Door County farm.  One particular German, Karl, catches Thomas's attention, and when Thomas learns that the man is a math teacher, he arranges for Karl to tutor Kate.  Little does he realize that there is a dangerous magnetism brewing between Karl and his wife Charlotte.  While dutiful to her lessons and to her chores on the farm, Kate finds time to stretch her teenage wings, meeting a mysterious stranger on the shores of the bay.  Soon secrets abound, some sweet and innocent, others dark and destructive. Then just as the harvest is almost picked, son Ben, wounded in action, arrives home, bringing with him his own dark secrets.

This book was much darker than I expected it to be.  Still I liked the writing and especially like the characterization of Kate.  She had initiative, that adolescent zest for life, and yet, on many levels, was still naive and caring.  Thomas seems to take almost a back seat in the story, but on close examination we see that he is a loving husband and father, despite living a life he had not totally chosen.  His words of poetry throughout the story show his heart.  And then there is Charlotte.  She is the tragedy of this book and I will say no more.  For without Charlotte, there would be no story.  I obtained my copy through the Winnefox library system.  I think this would be a good book for Wisconsin book clubs because of the Door County war setting. As a matter of fact, it was the Wisconsin State Journal Summer Book Club pick.  While at the beginning the book almost feels like a quality Hallmark movie, it quickly moves to something darker and tragic.  Charlotte's choices (even Kate's) as well as Ben's decisions will give everyone much to talk about.

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