Book Review: Mrs. Sinclair's Suitcase

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Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase was a nice, enjoyable story, albeit a little predictable, but very nicely told. A great read if you are wanting to tuck into something nice and gentle.

Originally, I started this read in audio because Anna Bentinck was one of the narrators. She was the narrator for Elizabeth is Missing and was one of the reasons why I loved that book so much. However, Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase is absolutely one of those books that lends itself better to be read in its book format. The premise of the story is that Roberta finds a letter in her grandmother’s suitcase, a letter that will upturn the family’s history. Roberta also works in a bookshop, called The Old and New Bookshop, and spends her days cleaning out the old books that come into the store. Inside many of these books are notes, cards, letters, etc. that are presented at the start of the chapters narrated by Roberta. The charm, content and format of these little gems is truly lost in audio and makes for a disjointed narrative format.  Later on in the book, there are also some exchanges via email that are just better read rather than having them read to you.

Therefore, a big thank you to Putnam for sending us this book to enjoy! Inserted into the book is a page containing questions to and answers from the author. The answers further add to the delight and charm of the book. The author herself worked in a bookshop and would find many of the same kinds of objects in the books that Roberta finds. She also owned a suitcase that had a label “Mrs. D. Sinclair” in it and coupled with the letter found from a Polish WW2 Squadron Leader, the story behind Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase evolved. (Pretty interesting stuff eh?) (I also think the lady on the cover of the book looks a lot like Princess Diana, no?)

Anyway, Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase is told in two perspectives: one by Roberta and the other by Roberta’s grandmother Dorothea (Dorothy).

Roberta works in the bookshop, is a lonely woman but overall somewhat content with the close friendship she has with the bookshop owner and in part with the other girls working there as well. Roberta’s father drops off some old books from her grandmother one day, and with them a suitcase he says was his mother’s as well. Affixed to the inside the suitcase is a label with “Mrs. D. Sinclair” on it. Roberta finds this odd as their family name is Pietrykowski. Her grandfather was Jan Pietrykowski, although he was never known to Roberta or to her father either. He died during the war in 1940 and before her father’s birth.

To further add to the mystery, Roberta finds a letter addressed to her grandmother from her grandfather that contains not only puzzling information, but a date that doesn’t coincide with the history told about her grandfather. This letter is dated 8 February 1941, well after her grandfather’s death in the war. None of this makes any sense to Roberta and she spends much of her time trying to piece together the information found in the suitcase and the letter. It’s difficult to get information from her grandmother though, she is 107 or 108 now and not entirely lucid on her best days.

The second perspective is of Dorothea, or Dorothy Sinclair as we come to discover. Starting from the beginning on when she became the Mrs. D. Sinclair as the name shows in the suitcase, to how she then became Dorothea Pietrykowski is revealed. Her story, taking place during WWII is a satisfying one.

So there you have the bones of this rather charming and warm read. This is a lovely debut and again, if you are looking for a gentle and charming read, I highly recommend tucking into Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase. The little bits and bobs of notes, letters and cards found in the old books, the letters between Jan and Dorothea, and the wonderful story Dorothea shares of her life (and Roberta’s as well), all offer a lovely read.

3.5 stars.

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