As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner

abahWhen the Bright family moves to Philadelphia from their rural Pennsylvania town in the autumn of 1918, to run the family funeral home and after the death of newborn Henry, they have no idea what the future holds. Months into their new life, the Spanish flu pandemic hits the US, and hard. In As Bright As Heaven, we are taken on the full journey of these characters from before the flu, to during the pandemic, to after the flu, right into its long term effects and how it has shaped those who survived. The virus makes its way to the Brights rather suddenly, and with the lives of over 12,000 souls in its wake disappears just as quickly as it appeared. Indeed, the flu spans only a few chapters in this novel leaving the reader feeling shocked and saddened in the aftermath. This was one of the most heart wrenching novels I have read in a long time; inducing tears when I do not cry easily at books.

I thought this was a unique imagining of the Spanish Flu during WW1 by bringing in the perspective of those who care for the dead – the undertakers, the morticians and their families. We witness the story through the eyes of the four Bright ladies; Pauline, the mother, Evelyn the oldest, Maggie the middle child and Willa, the youngest. Well written, in easy, clear language, this novel was difficult to put down. This is a book full of characters and events that you will never forget. And while Death is prominent in this story, we are never left without hope.

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