Ike And Kay by James MacManus
Highly acclaimed author and managing director of The Times Literary Supplement, James MacManus, creates a compelling historical novel that brings to life an unbelievable but true love story set during the Second World War.
In 1942, Cork-born Kay Summersby’s life is changed forever when she is tasked with driving General Eisenhower on his fact-finding visit to wartime London. Despite Eisenhower’s marriage to Mamie, the pair takes an immediate liking to one another and he gifts Kay a rare wartime luxury: a box of chocolates.
So begins a tumultuous relationship that against all military regulation sees Kay travelling with Eisenhower on missions to far flung places before the final assault on Nazi Germany. She becomes known as “Ike’s shadow” and in letters Mamie bemoans his new obsession with ‘Ireland’. That does not stop him from using his influence to grant Kay US citizenship and rank in the US army, drawing her closer when he returns to America. When the US authorities discover Eisenhower’s plans to divorce from his wife they threaten the fragile but passionate affair and Kay is forced to take desperate measures to hold onto the man she loves…
Ike And Kay is a fictionalised account of the love affair between General Eisenhower and his driver Kay Summersby. The novel is historically accurate and heavily based upon the authors in-depth research. I think the novel is fascinating on many levels. Eisenhower was a key figure in the allied victory over the Nazi’s. His personal life and that of his love life, is rarely discussed in modern fiction or historical articles, with the focus being solely on his military career. Who was Dwight Eisenhower? What drew him to Kay? What did a love affair within the ww2 era mean, once the war was over?
Rest assured the author has covered the timeline perfectly! Opening in May 1942, we are with Kay as she awaits her new General on the platform of Euston station. The scene is set with the smoke/fog of a wartime train station and right away, I knew this was going to be a fantastic read.
Kay Summersby is originally from Ireland. She is part of the (MTC) Motor Transport Corps and becomes Eisenhower’s driver just five months after Pearl Harbour, after he arrives in Britain. Kay has had a colourful love life in the years before she meets Eisenhower. Divorced at just 33yrs old, she has more or less given up on the idea of a ‘happy ever after’. Prior to working for the MTC, she was an ambulance driver around the docklands of London. Kay is a strong woman both physically and emotionally. She is lonely in London, with only one close friend Charlotte. But through the class divide of Britain they are not as close as two friends should be.
Then into her life walks Major General Eisenhower. . .
Eisenhower has the weight of the world literally, upon his shoulders. He must devise military strategy under the fear of the Nazi’s. In Britain with the task of pulling together the allied forces by order of the US president. Eisenhower has no time for love affairs. . . Or so you’d think. . .
‘If Moscow fell before the winter snows it would be Britain next’
The novel expands on Kay’s background, her divorce and previous love affairs. The novel also goes into detail about Eisenhower’s marriage to Mamie who remains in the USA. You really get the feel of the ww2 era and that this was an entirely unique era. Given the war and the constant threat of death that was upon all citizens. You can easily see how it fuelled many a love affair.
Eisenhower is promoted to Commander of European theatre of operations. He forms a military family which has its own internal hierarchy, which Kay is firmly part of. Aside from his military manoeuvres and love life the novel does also show his feelings and opinions towards the British and life in Britain.
‘Trouble with you Brits is everything is about class. Even the working class seem happy to be just that – lower than everyone else. They lack ambition. It’s pathetic’ – Eisenhower
Eisenhower takes up a weekend retreat called Telegram cottage, where he entertains many military leaders including Churchill. Suddenly Kay find herself mixing with the powerful and elite of British intelligence society. Her proximity to Eisenhower fails to go unnoticed. Even as far away as America. . .
‘Jealousy feeds on rumour and the rumours had certainly taken wings across the Atlantic’
With Mamie Eisenhower becoming aware of Kay and her closeness to her husband. Mamie begins to fear for her own future after the war, that and the future of her two young sons.
She expected to lose her husband to the army, but not to another woman.
Kay and Eisenhower travel to various locations on military pursuits, even as far as North Africa. They become closer and closer with each passing day. Kay even purchases a puppy for Eisenhower’s birthday, it isn’t long until influential figures in the military and intelligence are aware of the love affair taking place right under their noses.
They fall under the spell of peace and contentment at the cottage. With Kay finding comfort in the words of denial ‘This man would never love or need anyone more than the wife who waited for him jealously in Washington’ I felt this maybe a lie, Kay would come to regret.
In Washington, Mamie begins drinking far too much, struggling with the rumour mill of the fellow military wives and she fears her husband’s mistress is getting too close. Mamie is a woman on the edge. When she is approached to be part of an article titled ‘life with Ike’. This is a husband Mamie has hardly seen in two years. But keeping up appearances is important in the war.
Kay and Ike’s love affair continues, with regular breeches of regulations and Ike even buying her a fancy gun. Kay meets President Roosevelt and is elevated to positions she could never imagine. She is even offered the chance to be part of an American unit, the Woman’s Army Coprs. Kay Summersby has arrived!!
As the war progresses, even Rommel becomes aware of who Kay is and her close relationship with Eisenhower. After a series of loss of lives in war, Ike is advised to drop Kay and this is when the politics seep over into Ike’s personal life. What was once tolerated, is now becoming an embarrassment to the military.
As the war comes to a close, and the liberation of Paris is underway. Ike and Kay are both planning for a life after the war, but will it include one another? Kay witnesses the brutality of victory, seeing the death of defeat on the streets.
Her feelings towards the affair begin to change.
‘So many young men, lying their like broken dolls – and what for? Nothing’
Faced with the harsh reality of war, Kay begins to feel foolish in her pursuit of Ike. Whilst, Ike is faced with the tough choice of Kay or country?
This novel is a fascinating glance into the lives of historical figures. It offers so much in the form of debate and would be ideal for book groups that have a focus on historical fiction. As stated above the accuracy and research is second to none.
Ike And Kay is a powerful story of love in war.
James MacManus has worked in the newspaper business for 50 years and is currently the managing director of The Times Literary Supplement. James was a WW2 baby, educated at Westminster School, and graduated from St Andrews University in 1966 when he began his career at the Daily Express in Manchester. James joined The Guardian in 1972, first as a reporter in London and then as a foreign correspondent in France, Africa and the Middle East. In 1985, James joined the Diplomatic staff of the Daily Telegraph in London before a move to The Times in November 1992, first as Assistant Editor (Home) and then Managing Editor in September 1996.
James was appointed Managing Director of The Times Supplements in April 1997. Following heart surgery in 2009, James relinquished many of his duties to concentrate on speech writing and managing The Times Literary Supplement.
In 2006, James’ first screenplay about the life of George Hogg, The Children of the Silk Road, was made into a film starring Jonathan Rhys Meyer titled The Children of Huang Shi. James went on to write a book of the film, Ocean Devil (2008), followed by his debut novel, On the Broken Shore (Harper Collins, 2010) and historical fiction novels Black Venus (Duckworth, 2014), Sleep in Peace Tonight (Duckworth, 2015) and Midnight in Berlin (Duckworth, 2016). You can read more here about his new historical fiction novel Ike and Kay available from 8 March 2018 (Duckworth), a vivid reimagining of General Eisenhower and Kay Summersby’s infamous love affair in London after the second World War.