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.
Susan Meissner’s writing is like a warm hug or a slow dance or a good wine. It just flows seamlessly and gets you into your soul.
Personally, I have a tendency to romanticize the past – historical fiction holds such a dear place in my heart, I love that I can be entertained by fiction while being educated about a period of time. But definitely, not all of it is romantic. And in As Bright As Heaven, Susan Meissner has given a voice to so many who experienced a horrible plague, one that has seemingly been lost to history. To quote from her Acknowledgments:
The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918–19 was the deadliest disease in history, exponentially worse than the Black Plague, yet most people I talk to are unaware of the breadth of its impact. Fifty million people worldwide are estimated to have died from Spanish Flu. That’s a staggering number, far more than the number of the lives lost in both world wars combined. This disease is more than just a sad moment in history; it is the untold stories of people just like you and me—and our parents, our brothers and sisters, our children. It is millions upon millions of stories of people just like us.
Told from several perspectives, Meissner was able to give a voice to four different girls and women in different stages of life effectively and convincingly. And death. Death is almost a character in this story, present at all turns and ironically taking on a life of its own.
There is love and there is loss and there is the story of a family that will stick with you for a very long time. And maybe some tears. Highly recommend.
Thank you to Susan Meissner, Berkley and Netgalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.