Barbara Taylor Bradford, author of the Emma Harte Saga that began with A WOMAN OF SUBSTANCE, writes again about strong females in LETTER FROM A STRANGER. The story begins in Istanbul, where a worried woman posts a letter to her best friend’s daughter in the United States. Little does she know at the time that this correspondence will open old wounds and aid in solving mysteries from many past lives. The following months of 2004 will be filled with travel, questions, intrigue and romance. The events of World War II are told by means of a journal kept by a woman who experiences the anguish of having lost everything important in her life.
"For fans of Barbara Taylor Bradford, LETTER FROM A STRANGER will satisfy their thirst. An emotional story, the research about Istanbul and Berlin makes for an intriguing story of identity."
Anita Lowe, Gabriele Hardwicke’s best friend, is compelled to write a letter to Gabriele’s daughter, Deborah, hoping to mend a rift between the two over the past 10 years. However, Deborah will not receive the letter. Her daughter, Justine Nolan, vacations at Indian Ridge, the family’s Connecticut rural residence, after finishing a documentary film, while Deborah runs a successful international business and resides in California. At 32, Justine and her twin brother, Richard, relish in the comfort of Indian Ridge, the residence left to them by their deceased grandmother, Gabriele.
Postmarked from Istanbul, the letter has no return address. Justine opens the envelope with knowledge that it may be months before her mother appears at the house. Anita’s words spill onto the page with love and compassion for her friend. With Gabriele nearly 80, Anita writes that melancholy over her estranged family now consumes her days. Anita beseeches Deborah to end the estrangement and the heartache it has caused. Gabriele longs to see her grandchildren before she dies and implores Deborah to end the suffering.
Stunned, Justine’s hand shakes at the words she has read: her beloved grandmother is still alive! She could not begin to identify the cause of the rift between a mother and her daughter that tore the family apart. When Richard arrives at Indian Ridge, she tells him about the letter and the shock it will bring. Bradford goes out of her way to impress upon her readers that the fraternal twins share a genetic bond that glues them together emotionally. They both react with the same vigor to the news about their grandmother. Richard, an architect, is bound by time constraints, but Justine can travel to Istanbul where she will seek out Anita. A friend of her childhood chum happens to own a travel business in Istanbul and will be her guide.
Arriving in Turkey, Justine sets about locating the mysterious Anita but to no avail. Taking a river cruise with the Turkish guide, she sees two women getting out of a boat at shoreline. Justine screams with passion when she recognizes her grandmother. A happy reunion is soon achieved, but with an added attraction. Anita’s grandson, Michael Dalton, is a handsome single man who falls under Justine’s enthusiastic spell.
Gabriele is reluctant to discuss the estrangement with her daughter, but when pressed, finally gives Justine a leather-bound journal to read when she and Anita leave for a short business trip to Bodrum. The notebook is titled “Fragments of a Life," authored by Gabriele and dated November 16, 1938, Berlin. Justine’s journey through the pages leaves her in tears by the end. Her life, as well as the lives of her entire family, is changed by the words she has read. But she still has no idea of the role that her mother played in the lie about Gabriele's death.
LETTER FROM A STRANGER is definitely a woman’s book, but the history of Berlin in the war years gives it the credibility that kept me reading. Too much emphasis on the relationship between the siblings verged on the boring, and the romance that developed in Istanbul was predictable yet pleasant. Even the eventual clash between the twins and their mother seemed anticlimactic. The real heroine is Gabriele, the family’s matriarch.
For fans of Barbara Taylor Bradford, LETTER FROM A STRANGER will satisfy their thirst. An emotional story, the research about Istanbul and Berlin makes for an intriguing story of identity.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on May 4, 2012