Other Women, Other Wars

Good morning from Casita  Marron where smoke from the annual burning of fields in Mexico has cast a haze over the hill country.  It looks like rain, which we desperately need, but alas….

The ongoing war between Israel and Hamas has me thinking about wars and the ways women experience them. The women’s historical fiction space has been dominated for several years now by stories set in World War II to the near exclusion of stories about other women in other wars. I want to recommend a few historical novels. Some are new; others have been around a while but are still very much worth your time if you’re reeling from WW II saturation fatigue. 

The Women. Kristin Hannah

Unless you’ve been traveling in outer space  this spring it’s unlikely you’ve missed the publicity for The Women, Kristin Hannah’s new novel that follows Frankie McGrath, a young army nurse serving in a fictional evacuation hospital in Vietnam. The hospital scenes are emotional and  immersive and detailed but also graphic, so keep that in mind if you’re squeamish. The second half of the book follows Frankie’s return to her home in California and her difficulties in adjusting to civilian life. This second half contains one significant historical error and a couple of unbelievable coincidences, but clearly, Kristin Hannah knows her audience. The Women offers opportunities to talk about a painful time in our history that is still unresolved after half a century and for that reason alone, it’s well worth reading. 

The Berlin Letters. Katherine Reay

The Berlin Letters opens as the Berlin Wall suddenly goes up, separating families caught on opposites of the city.  The lead character, Luisa Voekler is reared by her grandparents and grows up believing her parents are dead. Years later, as  a codebreaker at the CIA, Luisa discovers a cache of letters from WW 2 that sends her back to Berlin  to free her father from an East German prison. I coudn’t help comparing this novel  to the Cold War novels of the master of the genre, the late John LeCarre. Katherine’s tale is just as compelling, and worth the read if you’re interested in this time period. 

Switchboard Soldiers. Jennifer Chaiverini 

I have to admit I was sad to discover this book last week only because I intended to write my own novel about the women who served with the U S Army Signal Corps during World War One. Nicknamed “the Hello Girls” these 200 plus women served as switchboard operators in France, facilitating communications between General Pershing’s troops. Some of the women were issued helmets and gas masks and served in the trenches near the front.  Predictably they were not given veteran status when they returned from the war. That designation didn’t happen until President Carter recognized them in 1977. Jennifer Chaiverini builds her story around three of the women who served—-Grace Banker, the leader, Marie Miossec, an aspiring opera singer, and Valerie DeSmedt, determined to strike a blow for her native Belgium.  Lots of historical detail. 

 The Widow of the South. Robert Hicks,

After the devastating Battle of Franklin that transformed Carrie McGavock’s home, Carnton, into a field hospital, hundreds of casualties from both north and south were interred on the  property. For the next forty years, Carrie tended the graves of the lost men, mourning for them in place of their lost families and earning the nickname The Widow of the South. I’ve visited the cemetery twice. Seeing the graves, and knowing Carrie’s story brings this piece of history alive for me.  If you missed this novel when it was first published, take a look. I think you’ll love it.

My Name is Mary Sutter. Robin Oliveira.

This is the story of an ambitious young midwife who longs to become a doctor. Mary travels to Washington DC to tend the thousands of Civil War War wounded men. When Mary’s mother pleads with her to return home to help with the difficult birth of her twin sister’s child, Mary must decide whether to honor her mother’s wishes or pursue her dream of a medical career. 

If you have recommendations for novels about women in wars other than WW2, please share.

Till next time, be safe, be happy, be kind. 

2 thoughts on “Other Women, Other Wars

  1. Leanna

    Great post! I’ve just added a few more books to my to-be-read list. 🙂 Thanks! Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is an interesting book by Karen Abbott. Home Before Morning is not fiction but an excellent read about Vietnam.


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