“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.
Meissner explained the symbolism of the title, “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. 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.”
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.
Meissner noted, “As I was taking a tour of 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.’ 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.”
This being a character driven story, readers learn how 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.