Originally published: 29 September 2022
Author: Sara Lee
Published by: Pan Macmillan
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 336 pages
Reading dates: 30 September-3 October 2022
It’s 1954 and, in Barbados, Ruby Haynes spots an advertisement for young women to train as nurses for the new National Health Service in Great Britain. Her sister, Connie, takes some persuading, but soon the sisters are on their way to a new country – and a whole new world of experiences.
As they start their training in Hertfordshire, they discover England isn’t quite the promised land; for every door that’s opened to them, the sisters find many slammed in their faces. And though the girls find friendships with their fellow nurses, Connie struggles with being so far from home, and keeping secret the daughter she has left behind in search of a better life for the both of them . . .
An Ocean Apart tells the story of three young women who travel to the United Kingdom to train as nurses for the NHS in the 1950s. Sisters Connie and Ruby comes from Barbados. Connie is cautious and apprehensive about the move but is determined to work hard and do well. Ruby is more excited and also works hard. They soon make friends with another young woman, Billie who is from Jamaica but are often shocked by what a modern woman Billie is – flirting with the boys and enjoying a drink. But she is kind hearted and all three enjoy their work as nurses once the intensive training is over and become close.
Set in the aftermath of the Second World War, people are still feeling the effects. Rationing is coming to an end but things are still tough for the people who fought and lost loved ones. The three girls suffer racial abuse, most noticeably from another trainee nurse but once they get used to the weather and the food they start to enjoy their lives in England, especially as all three soon form romantic attachments. We follow a year in their lives working in the NHS and all three work on different wards and find they are surprised by how much they enjoy the challenges.
I really enjoyed An Ocean Apart. The blurb says Call the Midwife meets Small Island and it definitely reminded me of Call the Midwife which I love! Historical fiction at it’s best, the author based this story on some of her own mother’s experiences as an immigrant from Barbados who arrived in the UK in 1960 to work as a nurse. Exploring lots of themes, including post traumatic stress, racism and having a child out of wedlock, it is refreshing to see the 1950s through a different set of eyes.
Many thanks to Chloe from Pan Macmillan for inviting me on the tour and for my copy. Check out what other reviewers are saying over on Instagram
About the author:
Born in London, Sarah Lee is a daughter of Windrush Generation immigrants to Britain. She was drawn to the idea of her debut novel, An Ocean Apart, having grown up around strong, proud and pioneering women – including her own mother, who came to Britain to work in the fledgling National Health Service. Drawn from all corners of the Caribbean, these women came to the ‘Mother Country’ to help fill the post-war labour shortage and establish a health service that has gone on to become a national treasure. Many of them dedicated their entire working lives to the NHS, but their experiences are little known, their stories rarely told, so it was a privilege for Sarah to be able to bring to light some of their experiences.
Sarah has been a journalist and editor for more years than she cares to admit to, working across news and features and writing for regional and national newspapers, as well as commissioning for women’s true-life magazines. Since 2008, she has focused her attention on the world of travel, as publisher of luxury blog, LiveShareTravel (livesharetravel.com), and working with destinations and brands worldwide on storytelling marketing campaigns and conferences through her company, Captivate. Her first book, The Luxury Traveller’s Handbook, provided travellers with a broad range of insights and practical advice on how to travel in luxury for less.
A member of the British Guild of Travel Writers, when her feet do touch the ground, Sarah lives in a little village in the heart of the English countryside with her husband, Terry.