IKE AND KAY by James MacManus
The sweeping love story at the heart of the Second World War, vividly reimagining General Eisenhower and Kate Summersby’s infamous, star-crossed affair
In his latest historical novel Ike and Kay, acclaimed author James MacManus brings to life an unbelievably true and controversial romance and the poignant characters and personalities that shaped the course of world history.
In 1942, Kay Summersby’s life is changed forever when she is conscripted to drive General Eisenhower on his fact-finding visit to wartime London. Despite Eisenhower’s marriage to Mamie, the pair takes an immediate liking to each other and he buys Kay a rare wartime luxury: a box of chocolates.
So begins a tumultuous relationship that, against all military regulation, sees Kay traveling with Eisenhower on missions to far-flung places before the final assault on Nazi Germany. The general does dangerously little to conceal his affair with the woman widely 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 citizenship and rank in the US army, drawing her closer still when he returns to America. When officials 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 . . .
Based on the scandalous true story of General Eisenhower’s secret World War II love affair, Ike and Kayis a compelling story of love, duty, sacrifice, and heartbreak, set against the backdrop of the most tumultuous period of the twentieth century.
Mamie Eisenhower wrote long letters to her husband every week, sometimes more than one, which he dutifully answered. Kay knew he regarded it as his duty to reply to each one within a day of receipt. He had once asked her to type a letter home straight from his dictation. That had been a big mistake. Mamie had been furious and made it clear she wanted handwritten letters from her husband or none at all.
The point was made in a brief letter that Eisenhower read sitting at his desk. Kay had been taking dictation for over an hour and the letter came as a welcome break for coffee. He sighed deeply, folded the letter and put it in a desk drawer. “Is anything wrong?” said Kay, putting coffee on the desk. She had guessed its contents.
“Yes, but don’t let it worry you,” he said. “Now, where were we?”
Later when she was alone in the office curiosity overcame caution. She opened the drawer and took out the letter. Its brevity was brutal, the message cold.
Never ever send me a typed letter dictated to that woman. If you have not the time to write yourself please don’t write at all.
So she had become “that woman”, just as to many of Ike’s staff she had become rather more than a mere driver. Jealousy feeds on rumour and the rumours had certainly taken wing across the Atlantic.
Kay shrugged. How did the old rhyme go? “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.”
She could see that Eisenhower didn’t miss his wife or anybody else, even his son. How could he? The days were full, the nights were short, and in the words of a poem that Kay remembered from somewhere, “life slips by like a field mouse not shaking the grass”.
“Who wrote that?” he’d asked.
“I don’t know – an American poet, I think. It’s just one of those lines that sticks in your head.”
“Nothing sticks in my head. It’s like a parade ground of facts and figures marching past – whole armies of them on the move up here,” he’d said, tapping his forehead, and grinned, suddenly pleased with his own words.
The familiarity between them jeopardised the innocence of their relationship, but she told herself she was only doing her duty.
“Mind you look after our general,” Churchill had said.
And that was all she was doing – obeying orders from the highest authority.
Excerpted from Ike and Kay by James MacManus. Copyright © 2018 by James MacManus. Published by arrangement with The Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc.
James MacManus is the managing director of The Times Literary Supplement. He is the author of six novels, including the historical novels Black Venus, Sleep in Peace Tonight, and Midnight in Berlin.
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