By Julie Kish
Bluebird by Genevieve Graham
Simon & Schuster, April 2022
Genevieve Graham’s newest historical fiction novel, Bluebird, is full of heart and compassion for the brave Canadian men and women who served during WWI. This engaging page-turner perfectly combines wartime heroics, intrigue, romance and history.
The Canadian author of 10 historical novels is known for exploring lesser-known aspects of Canadian history. This new novel delves into WWI and post-war prohibition in Windsor, Ontario. All her books are fictional, but the characters are believable and the stories are grounded in factual historical events.
The title Bluebird refers to the nickname given to the Canadian nurses serving in Europe during WWI who wore distinctive blue uniforms. The title character, Adele Savard, is a brave young nurse from the Windsor area stationed at a field hospital in Belgium when she meets Jerry and John Bailey, brothers who are also from Windsor.
They serve in the 1st Canadian Tunneling Company and have the incomprehensibly dangerous task of tunneling under enemy trenches and planting bombs. When Jerry is wounded and facially disfigured by a tunnel explosion, Adele nurses him back to health.
In the type of touching scenes that can only happen when people are surrounded by the horrors of war and an uncertain future, the two fall in love. Unfortunately, they lose track of each other when Jerry recovers enough to rejoin his company.
At the war’s end, Jerry and John return to their family home, and Jerry tries to locate Adele. In the meantime, the Bailey brothers begin making whisky using their father’s recipe and his homemade still. Prohibition laws are passed shortly after the war’s end, and the brothers discover they can make a fortune smuggling their whisky across the river to Detroit.
They have no idea how dangerous this enterprise will become until they encounter the rum-running gangsters who threaten to destroy anyone who cuts into their profits. When the star-crossed lovers finally reunite, Jerry is forced to evaluate the risks he takes before he can plan a life with Adele.
The author is skilled at making this period come alive. Her detailed description of the tunneling operation is guaranteed to paralyze the reader with claustrophobia, and the scene when the field hospital is bombed is terrifyingly realistic. Her depiction of a post-war Windsor speakeasy is so lifelike the reader can almost hear the ragtime music and smell the whisky. She uses a tender-hearted approach to explore the post-war trauma suffered by the veterans, many of whom work for the Bailey brothers in their whisky business.
On her website, Genevieve Graham says she hopes her readers will be able to say they’ve learned something new about Canada’s history after reading one of her books. For example, this meticulously researched novel teaches readers that WWI was the first conflict where Canadian women served in the military, which helped women win the right to vote in 1917.
Bluebird is undoubtedly educational, but it’s also a thoroughly entertaining read. The author skillfully brings history to life.