“Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase” by Louise Walters is a debut novel about Roberta Pietrykowski, who works in The Old and New Bookshop in London. She likes to collect the letters and postcards she finds in second-hand books.
Her father had given her a battered suitcase with some of her grandmother Dorothea’s books and belongings, which held a lifetime of memories, lost and found loves. In the suitcase she discovers, carefully folded away, a letter from the grandfather she never knew. It was dated Feb. 8, 1941, after he had supposedly died in WWII. The letter was signed by Jan Pietrykowski.
But Roberta wonders why he was writing to a “Mrs. Sinclair.” Roberta begins unraveling a family secret, decades old.
The author uses parallel stories, the present narrated by Roberta herself and
the second, from the past, told on behalf of Roberta’s elderly (Babunia) grandmother.
Dorothea is a centenarian and living in a Care home. The author structures the story so that the reader becomes immersed in (Dorothea’s) wartime life. Unhappily married, Dorothea is childless, living in Lincolnshire and housing two “land girl” boarders.
When an airplane crashes in the field behind her cottage, this accident leads her to meet Polish squadron leader Jan Pietrykowski, who is training nearby. Irrational decisions are made which return to haunt later generations. Dorothea’s story is bleak at times, as well as sad and compelling. The author leads the reader to
the discovery of Roberta’s past, resulting in reflections on her life today.
The novel is well researched and introduces the reader to the “Land Girls” a civilian organization created during WWII that placed young women on farms to replace men who were called up to the military.
The snippets of letters and cards that the author includes at the beginning of each chapter make the story seem authentic and the reader feel more involved. The wartime setting and the attention to details is thoroughly convincing.