Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion (Thorndike Press Large Print Historical Fiction)

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9781410473202: Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion (Thorndike Press Large Print Historical Fiction)
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A New York Times Bestselling Author On any particular day, many thousands of people pass through New York City's Grand Central Terminal, through the whispering gallery, beneath the ceiling of stars, past the information booth and its four-faced clock, to whatever destination is calling them. Now, ten bestselling authors inspired by this iconic landmark have created their own stories, set on the same day just after the end of World War II ― a time of hope, uncertainty, change, and renewal.

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About the Author:

Featuring stories from
Melanie Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author of The Aviator's Wife
Jenna Blum, New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Save Us
Amanda Hodgkinson, New York Times bestselling author of 22 Britannia Road
Pam Jenoff, bestselling author of The Ambassador's Daughter
Sarah Jio, New York Times bestselling author of Blackberry Winter
Sarah McCoy, New York Times bestselling author of The Baker's DaughterKristina McMorris, New York Times bestselling author of The Pieces We Keep
Alyson Richman, bestselling author of The Lost Wife
Erika Robuck, bestselling author of Call Me Zelda
Karen White, New York Times bestselling author of After the Rain
With an Introduction by

Kristin Hannah, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Home Front

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

I was born in sunny Southern California, in a time when the world was a simpler, quieter place. I rode my bicycle to the store and bought bottles of soda and Pop Rocks. My friends and I built forts in our manicured backyards and spent Sundays at the beach with our moms, wading in the water, splashing each other. The sun was always shining in my little corner of the world. Dads worked during the day and were rarely seen; moms couldn’t be ditched no matter how hard you tried. When the sun set, we all raced home on our bikes and gathered around a dinner table where there was almost always a hot casserole waiting.

I was a preteen when the Vietnam War changed the landscape around me. Suddenly there were protests and sit-ins and marches on the weekends; the police wore riot gear against college students. The nightly news was about body counts and bombs falling in faraway places. Then came Watergate. Nothing seemed safe or certain anymore.

I came of age reading about distant planets and unknown worlds. On my nightstand were novels by Tolkien and Heinlein and Bradbury and Herbert. I was a voracious reader, with my nose always buried in a book. I was constantly being admonished to quit reading and look up around me—especially on family vacations. In my high school years, it was Stephen King who held me in the palm of his hand and whispered to me that evil existed, but that it could be battled and beaten . . . if only one was strong enough, if only one truly believed. And I believed.

It wasn’t until later, when I grew up and got married and had a child of my own, that I began to see my life in context, to see how different the sixties and seventies and eighties were from the years that came before. I think that’s when I fell in love with World War II fiction.

World War II. Today, that’s all it takes for me. Tell me it’s a novel set during the war and you have a better than even chance of snagging my attention. Add that it’s epic or a love story and you have me ordering the book in advance.

There’s something inherently special about that war, at least as it is seen by the modern reader, which is to say, in retrospect. World War II was the last great war for Americans, the last time that good was good and evil was evil and there was no way to mistake the two. It was a time of national sacrifice and common goals. A time when we all agreed on what was important and what was worth fighting and dying for. Women wore white gloves and men wore hats. Through the prism of today’s contentious times, it seems almost impossibly romantic and polite. In our modern, divided and conflicted world, many of us long to glimpse a forgotten time, where the right path seemed easier to identify and follow. The “Greatest Generation.” That’s what we see when we look back now. It’s no wonder that stories about the men and women who lived and loved during that era seize our imagination and hold it so firmly.

World War II, like most wars, has been primarily defined by men. We learn in school about the battles and the skirmishes, about the bombs and the missions. We see the photographs of men marching on beaches and advancing up hillsides. We study the atrocities that were committed and remember the lives—indeed the generation—that was lost. But only recently have we begun to pay attention to the women.

In the World War II novel that I am currently writing, a female character says to her son, “We women were in the shadows of the war. There were no parades for us and few medals,” and I think that’s really true. In too much of our war fiction, women are forgotten, and yet the truth of their participation is fascinating and compelling and deserves to be at the forefront of the discussion about the aftermath of the war. Women were spies and pilots and code breakers. And of equal importance was their place on the home front. While the world was at war and the men were gone, it was the women who held life together, who gave the soldiers a safe place to return to. Many of the stories herein are focused on women and their lives on a single day in 1945, when the war was over but far from forgotten. Everyone had to readjust their lives after World War II—the men coming home, the women trying to return to a life that had been changed beyond recognition, the children who remembered nothing of peacetime. These are the themes and issues that continue to resonate with readers today.

I was enthralled by the short stories in this collection. This talented group of authors has taken an intriguing premise and coaxed from it a seamlessly integrated group of stories. In it, a single day in Grand Central Terminal—entrance to the melting pot of America—becomes the springboard for ten very different stories, which, when read together, weave a beautiful tapestry about men and women and their war years. In some, the characters are finding new lives after devastating losses; in others, the characters are battling the terrible effects of the war and trying to believe in a better future. In all of them, we see the changes wrought by World War II and the battles that often needed to be fought at home simply to survive and begin anew. And through all the stories is the melody of loss and renewal, the idea that something as simple as a song played on a violin in a train station can remind one of everything that was lost . . . and everything one hopes to regain.

Kristin Hannah
New York Times bestselling author of Home Front and Winter Garden

Going Home


He wasn’t sure whether it was the vaulted ceilings or the marble floors that created the building’s special acoustics. But on certain afternoons, when the pedestrian traffic was not too heavy, Gregori Yanovsky could close his eyes, place his chin on his violin, and convince himself that Grand Central Terminal was his very own Carnegie Hall.

Months before, he had discovered his perfect little corner of the terminal—the one just before the entrance to the subway, on the way to the Lexington Avenue exit. It was far enough from the thunder of the train tracks, yet still busy enough for foot traffic to yield him a few spare coins every couple of minutes.

He’d arrive early each morning from his apartment on Delancey Street and ascend the stairs of the subway with his shoulders back and his head held high. Something about carrying a violin case made him feel special amongst the throng of commuters. For concealed within his velvet-lined case was the possibility of magic, of music, of art, which no mere briefcase in the world could ever contain.

And although his suit jacket, with its thin grey flannel, was a far cry from the more stylish ones from Paul Stuart or Brooks Brothers worn by the men who arrived daily on trains from Larchmont or Greenwich, Gregori felt he transcended the shabbiness of his shirtsleeves. His elegance came instead from the simplicity and precision of his movements. The way he positioned his instrument against his collarbone. The graceful manner in which he lifted his bow. These were not flourishes that were taught in a finishing school or at suburban family meals.

He and his instrument needed each other, like partners in a waltz. Without the other, there could be no music.

As a child in Poland, Gregori had watched his father, Josek, soak his hands in milk every night to soften his calluses after a day of splitting wood. Josek had learned the craft of barrel making from his own father but secretly had always dreamed of making musical instruments instead. The barrels made him money and so kept food on the table and a roof over his family’s head, but music fed his soul.

On Friday nights, Josek invited anyone with an instrument into their home to fill it with music for his wife and child. Gregori still remembered his father twirling him around the room, as a neighbor played the balalaika. Years later, he would recall his father’s laughter. He could have tuned his violin on the sound of it. It was a perfect A.

During cart rides to the city of Krakow, with his father’s barrels loaded in the back and young Gregori sitting in the front, father and son would hum melodies together. Sometimes Josek would pull the cart over outside of a church, just to let his son listen to the organ music being played. Gregori seemed to come alive every time his father exposed him to melodies of any kind, whether it was the folk music of the village or the Mozart wafting out from one of the music schools in the city. Even more extraordinary was the boy’s remarkable ability to hum back any melody he heard, without missing a single note.

One night, when the rain was coming down so hard it sounded to Gregori as though the roof might collapse, there was a knock at the family’s door. When his mother opened the door, she found Josek’s friend Lev standing there under the doorway, with a man she did not recognize.

“We’ve been caught in the storm,” Lev said. “The wheel on my cart came off.”

He motioned to the man standing next to him, a hat pulled over his eyes. “I was trying to get my wife’s brother, Zelik, back to his home.”

Zelik raised one hand in greeting as he shuddered in the rain. In the other hand, Gregori’s father noticed a small dark case, shaped like a silhouette. Instinctively, he knew there had to be a violin inside.

“Come in before you ruin your instrument,” Josek said, waving the two men inside. His wife took their wet coats and hung them by the fire, while Josek and Gregori watched as Zelik placed his violin case on the table and unlatched it. Everyone gasped when they saw the glimmering instrument, which thankfully had not been damaged by the rain.

Gregori would never forget the sight of Zelik taking his violin out from his case, withdrawing the instrument as though he were a sorcerer. He still remembered that impending sense of magic as Zelik placed his chin on the edge, lifted his bow, and began to play. Zelik captivated everyone with the music that soon came forth in swirls and arabesques; the notes filled the room and thundered over the storm outside.

Zelik tapped his foot on the floor and bobbed his head from side to side. If joy had a sound, Gregori heard it that night from Zelik’s bow gliding over the strings. When the young man eventually put the instrument into Gregori’s hands, instructing him how to grasp the bow, all he could think about was learning to play it himself. The instrument had the capacity both to speak sorrow and to sing joy, all without a single word.

The next morning, after the sun reemerged and the wet timber and muddy roads began to dry, Zelik gave Gregori one last lesson. Gregori cradled the instrument in cupped hands. He slid his palm across the violin’s long, slim neck and fingered the tuning knobs. He felt as though he was touching beauty for the first time.

Zelik could see immediately how the boy’s hand naturally gripped the bow and could hear how he had a natural ear for melody. Zelik also sensed that, behind his closed eyes, Gregori didn’t just feel the music; instead it came forth from him as though he were breathing each note. As he grasped Josek’s hands, thanking him for giving him and Lev shelter that night, Zelik whispered into the man’s ear, “Your son has a gift. Sell what you must, but get him a violin and find a way to get him lessons. And do it as quickly as you can.”

Josek was able to get his son a violin in exchange for twelve pickle barrels made from his very best timber. After he saved enough money to feed his family, Josek used whatever funds remained to have a music teacher from a nearby village come to give Gregori lessons. The boy learned quickly how to play his scales, and then went on to more complicated études and sonatas that normally took other children far longer to master. Every so often, Josek would also take him into Krakow for a lesson and the opportunity to play with a piano accompanist. By the time he was ten, he could play all of the Mozart concertos. And when he was fifteen, he took his first stabs at the Mendelssohn.

But as much as he loved the music of the classical composers, after the weekly Shabbat dinners, Gregori always played the music of his shtetl. His fiddle work made his mother smile and his father pour the neighbors another glass of wine.

As he became older and his skills advanced, he started to dream of one day playing in Krakow’s prestigious Academy of Music and in candlelit recitals throughout Europe. But these dreams ended one night with the sound of breaking glass and his mother’s screams.

Before, the essence of his youth was a bowl of soup, a slice of bread, and his parents smiling to the sound of his violin. But that night, it was the sounds of terror and hate. Even fifteen years later, as he played in the safety and grandeur of Grand Central Terminal, the dark memories of his final days in his village often returned to him. The sight of his father being pulled from the house by an angry mob. The smell of burning barrels. The cries of his mother in the dark as the villagers torched their house, as his father lay bleeding and motionless on the ground. The word “Jew” slicing through the air like a scythe, uttered like a curse.

Gregori stood there watching, a voyeur to his own family’s destruction. All he wanted to do was rush over and kneel by his father, and remove the splinters of glass from his head, which looked like a broken gourd. He yearned to cradle his father in his arms and bring back the warmth that was flowing out of him, causing him to turn blue before Gregori’s eyes. But the boy’s limbs would simply not move. It was only when the family’s house was set ablaze that he felt his legs moving beneath him. They moved not by reason, but by instinct, his body lurching into the fire to save his violin.

Less than a year afterward, seventeen-year-old Gregori walked through Ellis Island. He had been sponsored by an older uncle whom his mother had not seen in years. In one hand, he carried a small leather suitcase, and in the other, he carried his violin. And beneath the material of his trousers were angry red patches of burn marks that wrapped around one leg. The scar looked like fire itself, a permanent red torch set in high relief against his skin. An eternal reminder of that horrible night.

His uncle had sponsored Gregori not purely out of compassion but also because he believed the boy’s music might draw customers to his restaurant on the Lower East Side. The first night, Gregori pulled out his violin in that crowded apartment on Delancey Street and serenaded his new family. The women let the dishes pile in the sink unwashed, their bodies instead anchored to their chairs as he played. As Gregori’s uncle scanned the room and saw the women transfixed, he was confident he’d have every table at his restaurant full by week’s end.

Nearly every night for three years, Gregori played countless mazurkas and tarantellas to diners enjoying their bowls of borscht and plates of stuffed cabbage. In some way, he enjoyed the warmth of the restaurant. The customers and their families reminded him of his Shabbat performances back in the shtetl. But it was hardly the type of playing Gregori had dreamed of when he was younger. As a new immigrant ...

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9780425272022: Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion

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ISBN 10:  0425272028 ISBN 13:  9780425272022
Publisher: Berkley, 2014

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