‘The Last Bookshop in London: A Novel of World War II’ by Madeline Martin

The Power of Literature

“Reading is…It’s going somewhere without ever taking a train or ship, an unveiling of new, incredible worlds. It’s living a life you weren’t born into and a chance to see everything colored by someone else’s perspective. It’s learning without having to face consequences of failures, and how best to succeed.”

I truly enjoyed this novel. Madeline Martin was inspired by the actual World War II history of the few bookshops to survive the Blitz. It’s about a young woman named Grace Bennet who arrives in London in August 1939 with her friend Viv. Both young ladies dream about a fresh start in the bustling city street – far away from their troubled life in the countryside. However, London is under the dismal weight of impending war with Germany as Hitler’s forces continue to cause devastation across Europe and prevent Grace and Viv from having the life they truly want.

Grace’s aspiration is to work in a department store, but without a legitimate reference letter, she ends up at Primrose Hill bookshop, a place she wasn’t very excited about. She never was a reader and found it overwhelming to organise the cluttered store, not knowing much about the books she sells. One day, she is gifted a book by a charming young man and what she feels like an obligation at the start turns into a passion that draws her into the world of literature.

United by storytelling

“You mentioned once feeling helpless amid this war. But down there, reading to all those frightened people, you had power. It doesn’t matter how you fight, but that you never, never stop”.

The city is bombed night after night; a devastating attack leaves the libraries and shops across London in ruins. Grace’s bookstore survives the attack, and throughout the blackouts and air raids, she continues to discover the comfort in the books she reads. “It is through books that we can find the greatest hope.” While reading to the people sheltering in the London underground stations, Grace discovers that storytelling unites everyone together and takes away the pain and fear of what’s happening above them during the bombings.

I love this story about how Grace grew into this powerful, amazing woman. From a young girl who wanted to work in a department store, she became this strong woman who supported the local community by reading to them and became ARP (Air Raid Precaution) Warden. When enemy planes were dropping bombs, she ran around the city looking for survivors, handing out gas masks and guiding people to shelters.

This was an incredible story about the power of books and how they can bring people together, even when one has no hope. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

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