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Reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers' Favorite
Love and Kisses, Charlie: WWII Letters from a Jewish-American Serviceman by Joshua Gerstein is a non-fiction compilation of actual correspondence between the years of 1943-1946 by a young man named Charles “Charlie” Fletcher and his family. The conveyance of life within these written pieces of history is remarkable, particularly given the time they were written, during WWII, and the preservation of them by Charlie's family. Photographs and images are included that integrate a deeper understanding of the family, the era, and a time capsule that embraces feeling as well as fact. Notable is the continuity in Charlie's messages that show a son's desire to assuage the fear of parents who would not only be terrified of death in combat but likely more so if Charlie, who is Jewish, survived combat but was taken prisoner. The first half of the book has a lot of levity as Charlie is Stateside, going on dates and for swims near his barracks. The levity is lost for the reader when the inevitable happens and Charlie is deployed “over there”.
As the great-granddaughter of a D-Day paratrooper, while I was reading Love and Kisses, it felt like author Joshua Gerstein was giving me a piece of family history. I am a history nerd and that is what initially drew me to a book that is, in all probability, one of the most comprehensive collections of written family correspondence during the war in existence. I am an American now living in London and there are a lot of heirloom boxes stuffed with letters on this side of the Atlantic, but America is a different beast. We The People are kind of bad about keeping Gram and Gramps' old stuff. Gerstein gives a uniquely American perspective that is also uniquely Jewish, and it is a glorious volume even when it is emotionally crushing. One can only imagine the horror of poor “Mom, Paw, and Yenta” in receiving a letter with two photographs of the crematories taken in real time at a German terror camp. Charlie is Charlie, trying to sound upbeat and assuring them that “The other shots are more pleasant.” Love and Kisses, Charlie is a beautiful, memorable story that will undoubtedly resonate with readers long after they've read it.