Pamela Schoenewaldt features an era that few novelists
explore in Under the Same Blue Sky
— World War 1. I’ve read dozens of World War
2 era novels, but I can’t think of a single novel of the Great War I’ve read
other than a children’s book or two.
The novel begins in Pittsburgh in 1914, before America
enters the European conflict. Hazel Renner is a young woman on the brink of
adulthood. She’s ready to venture into the world, although she isn’t sure what
that looks like yet. She’s had a comfortable, loving childhood in a
As the war in Europe escalates, animosity toward
German-Americans also rises. Hazel and her parents fall under suspicion and
hatred. Neighbors turn against them as the war wages. Hazel’s father becomes
obsessed and depressed over the war casualties, and Hazel’s life changes
drastically as she uncovers a family secret.
Hazel leaves home to become a teacher in a small town. This
whole part of the novel was strange to me. While she is in this town, Hazel
discovers she has healing powers. When she touches people and touches her blue
house simultaneously, she is able to miraculously heal people. This was an odd
addition to the novel, and I can’t say I understand why it was necessary. For
me personally, the novel would have been stronger without this foray into
healing of the sick. I think the author was working toward a theme of healing
in many forms, but this never jelled in my mind.
Hazel loses her healing power quickly, however, and moves to
the next phase of her journey: back to the castle where she was born. This is a
castle built by a reclusive German baron, who came to America to escape his
tyrannical father. Here Hazel puts the pieces of her early years together and
falls in love with the gardener.
But all can’t be happily-ever-after: the War rages in
Europe, killing millions. And influenza rages everywhere, killing even more
than the war. Those that are left behind are shell-shocked, struggling to make
sense of what has happened and to forge a new life in the midst of so much
loss. Hazel loses many loved ones, but ultimately she finds happiness and
learns to navigate in a world ravaged by war and disease.
A lot happens within these 300+ pages. I was especially
intrigued in the first half of the novel, as all my mother’s grandparents
emigrated from Germany to America in the late 1800s. With very German names,
they surely must have faced persecution during World War 1. My mother’s Uncle
Grover fought in the war and came back disabled by poison gas. My grandfather,
Uncle Grover’s youngest brother, was saved from the ravages of war only because
he contracted influenza and nearly died. It occurred to me as I read this novel
that those are the only two family stories I know of this time. I’ll have to
see if my mother had any others passed down to her, as her solidly German
family must have suffered many of the same horrors as do Hazel’s family in the
This is a great read, especially if you enjoy delving into a bit of history that doesn't get much attention.