A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams is a fascinating novel about relationships and prejudice that takes place during the 1930s in New York and New England. The book alternates between the years 1931 and 1938 with a backdrop of the historical events that took place during that period.
In 1931 the characters Nick Greenwald and Lily Dane fall in love only to have it end after Lily’s parents reject Nick because he is Jewish. Fast-forward seven years where her best friend Budgie has married Nick, her former finance. Williams explores the different relationships of friendship, jealousy, and long lost love. She is able to use the actual natural disaster event of the 1938 New England hurricane to show how someone’s life can change in a moment and how important it was to be with the one you love.
Another historical event she vividly discusses through her character’s eyes is the pending outbreak of World War II intertwined with Anti-Semitism in both Europe and America. A powerful quote from Nick, “She’d been brought up to believe in pure bloodlines, and I was a mongrel.” The author wanted her readers to understand that Nick felt it was his duty to fight this war because he saw first-hand the consequences of Anti-Semitism. She writes that he actually volunteered and “used his influences to gain an assignment to a combat unit because he saw it as his duty to take up arms against Hitler.” Williams’ hopes that she did justice to Nick’s story, “I wanted to show that he had the sense of a higher calling even though he is a father and a husband.”
Regarding the characters, the author contrasts Lily who is full of passion, good-natured, and someone who willfully and instinctively looks for the best in people with Budgie who is beautiful, confident, and fearless. She is violently jealous of Lily’s innocence and desires what Lily has. Then there is Nick, the man any woman would desire, an overall good person, loyal, and someone who stands up for his religion.
There are fascinating twists and turns in how each of the characters relates to one another. Williams noted, “Budgie’s entire life has been measured in her beauty and her ability to use that to manipulate men. I explored how the female characters have the possibility of a career if they are willing to fight for it. The focus in my books is on domestic relationships because it is the key to understanding the cultural grounds we walk upon today, that entire cultural shift. In this time period women were becoming more independent with the old rules falling by the wayside. Lily is relatable with those working mothers of today through her conflict between independence and raising a family.”
Those in the military should be able to relate to both Nick and Lily. Nick volunteered because he knew the importance of fighting evil just at those serving today fight the War on Terror. Lily had to balance her profession with being a parent, which happens often when troops are deployed. The author also showed how Nick, just as with today’s troops, must sacrifice family events for country.
Her next book, although not a sequel, will incorporate more of Nick and his children’s lives, and the conflict of being a part of a mixed marriage. Williams noted, “I am personally fascinated by the 20th Century and I am also interested in seeing how it all plays out after World War II.”
A Hundred Summers is a powerful novel that is very fast-paced. The issues explored in it are brilliantly presented through a potent storyline with very well developed characters.