Review of A BRIDGE ACROSS THE OCEAN/Interview with author Susan Meissner
A BRIDGE ACROSS THE OCEAN by Susan Meissner spans the lives of three women, one in modern day and the other two during the 1940s. She intertwines their lives with the help of a ship, some ghosts, and historical facts surrounding the Nazi regime. The gripping story of a young German ballerina and the daughter of a French resistance fighter are heart wrenching.
Beyond the human characters is a ship, the Queen Mary, which takes on human qualities, seemingly with a life of its own. The mystery begins aboard the RMS Queen Mary as it transported at the end of the war thousands of World War II brides who married American servicemen. Aboard is a former ballerina who married a Nazi Gestapo Agent, Annaliese Lange, and Simone Deveraux, the daughter of a French Resistance spy. One is trying to escape her past, while the other is trying to start a new life in a new land. But, when the voyage ends in New York, only one of them disembarks. Readers will frantically want to find out what happened to Annaleise, did she jump or was she pushed?
The other main character, Brette Caslake, is someone who senses and communicates with drifters, or as people commonly refer to them, ghosts. On a visit to the Queen Mary a spirit asks her to investigate Annaliese’s supposed suicide. Brette decides to solve this seventy-year-old mystery of the war bride.
The author plays off the theories that this ship is haunted and a gathering place for those who have not “crossed over,” with the Queen Mary spirit watching over all of them. The ghostly part is not all encompassing to the plot. Anyone who enjoys the paranormal genre will like this book, but for those people who want to concentrate on the historical scenes, there is plenty to go around. In fact, the account of both women in the midst of World War II is the highlight of this novel. Annaliese’s and Simone’s stories are engaging and heartbreaking.
Simone watched her father and brother executed by the Nazis, had a Gestapo agent rape her, and hid from them with the help of the French resistance. While in hiding she met her future husband, an American pilot injured when his plane was shot down. As she helped him to recover, they taught each other English through the Bible, fell in love, and married at the end of the war.
The other war bride, Annaliese, meets her future husband during her performance of “Swan Lake.” He is abusive, controlling, and threatening. A powerful quote hammers the point home, “It only mattered to him that she feared and respected him…” Knowing she must escape the relationship it became an obsession with her to find a way to freedom. Taking her dead friend’s identity she boards the ship as a war bride, hoping to become anonymous in America.
All three women take a journey to discover whom they are and what they must do to survive. Through the mystery and the dangers encountered they realize that sometimes there is no control over events and circumstances. The famous saying “you can’t pick your family, only your friends” comes to mind. The book quote is a version of this, “That’s the beauty and burden of having a child. You don’t pick and choose the one you think you want, you are handed the one G-d gives you.”
The plot and the characters are very intriguing. The spirit of the Queen Mary is intertwined within the historical lives of Simone, Annaliese, and Brette. Readers will not want to put this engaging book down.
Q/A with the author below:
A BRIDGE ACROSS THE OCEAN by Susan Meissner spans the lives of three women, one in modern day and the other two during the 1940s. She intertwines their lives with the help of a ship, some ghosts, and historical facts surrounding the Nazi regime. The gripping mystery of a young German ballerina who marries a sadistic Nazi, and the daughter of a French resistance fighter are heart wrenching. Beyond the human characters is a ship, the Queen Mary, which takes on human quantities, seemingly with a life of its own as it transports war brides to America.
Elise Cooper: The title is very symbolic?
Susan Meissner: All of the characters are taking a journey. They are brave as they enter this unknown world, where they cannot see the other side. As I said in the book, ‘Life will send up across a bridge we did not want to cross, but when we finally open our eyes, on the other side, we see that there had been nothing to fear after all,’ and we must move forward.
EC: Where did you get the idea for the story?
SM: I wanted to write a character in a place familiar to me, my hometown. Because I needed her to live close to the Queen Mary I thought it a great idea to have her live in San Diego since it is only about two hours away. My husband and I went to take a tour. I knew right then she would make a great location for a story. You appear to step into a time warp when you step aboard with a feeling of the 1940s on board the ship. It is a very nostalgic and mysterious kind of aura.
EC: Have you ever write a paranormal novel before?
SM: No. When I was on board the ship I learned how she brought over all these war brides after the war in 1946. Then I found out about how she was haunted. I made the leap that there is the ability for the soul to hang around after death, so I treated it as a literary character. In the acknowledgements I wrote, ‘I am grateful to G-d, who has assured me beyond all doubt that this life on earth is not all there is.’
EC: Do you believe in ghosts?
SM: If you believe there is life after death than it can be possible there are ghosts. I pondered that belief. I thought if ghosts are real than there must be more to the physical world and in that world there is more than we can actually see.
EC: Did you speak with any war brides?
SM: My go to war bride was June Allen from England. She sailed over at the age of eighteen in 1946 and is one of the few remaining, still alive. They were married for thirty-seven years before he died of cancer. Regarding the marriage she had to make it work, but found happiness much later in life with her second marriage. Although the character Phoebe, a British war bride, was not based on June she had many of her qualities: sweet disposition, a sense of humor, a welcoming manner, and a fondness for the ship.
EC: How would you describe Simone?
SM: I wanted to make sure she came on the ship with baggage, emotional scars. To make her believable I wrote her with virtues and flaws. I hope readers took a journey with her, as she had to mature from a child to an adult. She had a hard edge that helped her not drift into despair. But she also had loyalty, strength, and championed the people she loved.
EC: Annaliese, even though married to a Nazi, was someone readers had sympathy for?
SM: Yes. Her husband was horrible. I do not think readers looked on her as a Nazi, but someone forced to marry a monster. She never bought into the Nazi ideology; yet, had a tough go of it. I created a tension with her and Simone since she was German and Simone detested them because of what they did to her and her family.
EC: What do you want the readers to get out of the book?
SM: The characters were lost souls who had to cross bridges on their journey through life. I think this story was very character driven, regarding what they faced and the decisions they made. Love and fear were huge motivators for them. Both characters saw torture, misery, and felt helpless. They knew they needed to climb out of the abyss. They did so with courage and patience. I hope people see this as a story of goodness, justice, love, and loyalty.
EC: Can you give a heads up about your next book?
SM: It comes out in 2018 and is set in Philadelphia. The story is centered on the Spanish Flu where more people died than all the 20th Century wars combined. I like to write stories about family and relationships so this about a father and his three daughters.