Sunday, May 12, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: "84 Charing Cross Road" by Helene Hanff

In this day and age, the concept of sending handwritten letters back and forth with anyone probably seems as prehistoric as black and white television. But of course, this type of thing was indeed a way of life once upon a time, before there were such conveniences like text messaging, Facebook, or e-mail. For me, a writer and blogger who has friends from all over the world, hand-writing letters is in my blood – so it’s no wonder I was intrigued by the book 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. 

First Edition cover of 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, published 1970.
An incredibly quick read at only 97 pages in hardcover, 84 Charing Cross Road is a memoir of sorts, a collection of letters shared between Hanff, a New York City writer, and Frank Doel (and other assorted employees) of Marks & Co., a used book shop in London, over a 20-year period from 1949 to 1969. It’s simple yet complex, as it’s so much more than just letters – it’s also a testament to the unbreakable bond of friendship.

If I’m honest, I really had nothing on the books Helene Hanff was requesting of Marks & Co. – I’m not into that type of literature, so, with the exception of Jane Austen, I was pretty much clueless. But I still adored this book because I was able to watch the friendship between two people from opposite ends of the world flourish and grow despite the distance – and circumstances – between them.  For even when her employment was uncertain, Hanff made sure to send her London friends parcels of food and other items that were difficult to obtain due to rationing leftover from World War II. And they accepted her gifts with minimal protest, promising Hanff that whenever she was able to travel to London, a bed would be ready and waiting for her at more than one of their homes in return for her generosity.

84 Charing Cross Road is not your typical non-fiction; again, it goes beyond simply being a collection of letters between two people over the years. It is a story of books, yes, but ultimately about the unbreakable bond of friendship that can form, even from two opposite sides of the world. 
84 Charing Cross Road is available on Amazon.

Note: After writing this review, I discovered that there was a film adaptation of 84 Charing Cross Road starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins which was released in 1987. I was curious how a book such as this could be adapted into a film, and found it to be beyond my expectations in a good way. So if you choose to read the book, I heartily recommend watching the film afterwards!

1 comment:

  1. i have very fond memories of pen pals past. this sounds really great. plus, i just like reading other people's mail. great review! ;)....b