As Bright as Heaven
By Susan Meissner
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Daniele
In 1918, Philadelphia was a city teeming with promise. Even as its young men went off to fight in the Great War, there were opportunities for a fresh start on its cobblestone streets. Into this bustling town, came Pauline Bright and her husband, filled with hope that they could now give their three daughters–Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa–a chance at a better life.
But just months after they arrive, the Spanish Flu reaches the shores of America. As the pandemic claims more than twelve thousand victims in their adopted city, they find their lives left with a world that looks nothing like the one they knew. But even as they lose loved ones, they take in a baby orphaned by the disease who becomes their single source of hope. Amidst the tragedy and challenges, they learn what they cannot live without–and what they are willing to do about it.
As Bright as Heaven is the compelling story of a mother and her daughters who find themselves in a harsh world, not of their making, which will either crush their resolve to survive or purify it. (Goodreads)
As Bright as Heaven tells a rich tale of World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. The lovely prose does little to hide the horrors of the time, and I felt like I was right there alongside the Bright family as they faced life and death.
Meissner focuses on a time when the Spanish flu became the deadliest pandemic in history. I think many people are unaware of just how devastating this virus was; my own great-grandmother succumbed to the illness so it has always been in the back of my mind. This book caught my attention because of this, but it also touches on the effects of World War I and prohibition. It is a fascinating account of loss, heartache, grief, moving on, risks, and the repercussions of one’s actions.
Since I worked for years in a funeral home, Uncle Fred’s home and business interest me. I know some will find the early days of embalming and the funerary arts macabre, but I enjoyed these bits woven into the story. Death does touch us all in one way or another.
The story begins in 1918 and is told from alternating viewpoints, each with its own unique voice. We see life through mother Pauline and daughters Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa’s eyes, and their perspectives make the story compelling. How different the same events are from an adult, teen, tween, and child’s point of view. I enjoyed all of these characters, but Evelyn is my favorite of the sisters. I wish we knew more about Uncle Fred, father Thomas, and ward Alex’s thoughts. As interesting as Part One of the book is, the story really picked up for me in Part Two where the story jumps ahead to the mid 1920’s. The daughters are older, the circumstances different yet clearly shaped by the past. My only quibble is that everything is tied up a little too neatly at the end.
I recommend As Bright as Heaven to any reader who enjoys historical fiction. It is a refreshing spin on the time period.