In Enemies in Love Alexis Clark recounts the story of a very unlikely love between a black American nurse, Elinor Powell, and a German POW, Frederick Albert, during WW2. Elinor and Frederick met in a POW camp in Arizona, and fell in love. Recollected by Alexis Clark via journals, interviews with friends and family members, scrapbooks, and a huge amount of background research, Enemies in Love is, in my opinion, a fascinating story.
First of all, while the premise of this book is a love story, it is actually a deeply researched essay on segregation, racism, and bias that black women faced in general in their day to day lives in the first half of the 20th century, even after WW2. While I think most people are somewhat knowledgeable on the lasting effects of Jim Crow nowadays (I would hope), this type of reading is incredibly important because it contains so much information that we never hear about really, especially in most WW2 literature. Alexis Clark delves deeply into the huge blocks that black women had to jump over in order to first of all be able to qualify as nurses, and then find work, even in the armed forces during WW2 when there was a huge shortage of nurses. She also gives us a detailed background of how and why German POWs ended up in the US. It seems insane to think that a country would turn qualified nurses away because of their skin color even in a time when the country needed them, but it happened.
I think all of the relevant history around the story helps visualize both of the characters properly, it also provides us with a relevant, and important, history lesson.
I thought I was pretty well-versed in WW2 information but I had no idea of the amount of Axis POWs that were shipped to the US and interned here! I also think it’s incredible how German POWs were treated better than black nurses and soldiers in many areas in the armed forces and in civilian life. The enemy was treated better than US citizens that were fighting against the enemy!! I think we can still see this great hypocrisy displayed today in regards to current events.
All in all, Elinor and Frederick’s story is very touching, especially considering how they defied the odds and remained together until they died. Their union was very much out of the ordinary, and they even had a child out of wedlock out of choice, which at the time was of course a huge no-no. I found their story to be incredibly inspiring, especially as Alexis Clark really does her best to portray them as human beings, with their good and bad sides.
If you are looking to read about a romance with a WW2 backdrop this may not be for you. But if you are interested in learning about parts of WW2 that we never really hear about then you will definitely appreciate Enemies in Love.
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance copy. Enemies in Love will be published by The New Press on May 15, 2018.