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. 

Much Ado About…Something

How was the eclipse viewing in your neck of the woods? After weeks of warnings to be prepared with food, water, and gasoline as crowds descended on the hill country, there were a few spots of heavy traffic but nothing too terrible. Here at Casita Marron the eclipse was marred by thick clouds that obscured the view. We  stood on our back porch as darkness fell and the birds went silent. My neighbor’s security lights came on. The wind came up. Peering through our eclipse glasses we caught fleeting glimpses of the outer edge of the sun as the moment of totality arrived. 

Some people said ah well all those prep warnings, all the hype about the eclipse itself were much ado about nothing. Honestly I was disappointed not to have a better view, but these few moments when Americans across the political, religious, and economic spectrum came together in parks and parking lots and along roadsides, drawn together to witness a once in a lifetime event —was not nothing. It was a reminder of shared history.  A moment of shared humanity when we all stilled to experience together the wonders of the universe. 

It was something. 


Bluebonnet Legends

Just as the rose is a symbol of England and cherry blossoms are a symbol for Japan, the bluebonnet is known around the world as a Texas symbol. Even before the Texas legislature, after considering the cotton stalk and the cactus pear named the bluebonnet the official state flower in 1901, the state’s school children learned the legends of the bluebonnet.  One story goes that after a drought led to near starvation, the Comanche people built a fire and sacrificed their most important belongings. A little girl tossed her favorite cornhusk doll, adorned with a blue feather, into the flames. The next morning, the legend goes, the fields were full of blue flowers. 

Another story from the 1700’s claims that a blue-cloaked nun working among the people in New Mexico one day appeared to the Jumano people in Texas. On the last day she appeared to them the fields were suddenly carpeted with blue flowers.  

This time of year, our fields and roadsides are ablaze with these beautiful wildflowers. Thankfully, the Texas Legislature listened to the cadre of Colonial Dames of America who lobbied for the bluebonnet as the state symbol. Without them, we might well be watching each year for the first cotton bolls to open. 

Better Late Than Never

As my literary hero Pat Conroy used to say,  Hey Out There.

I hope your summer is going well. I’ve been AWOL from the blog for the past couple of months because there are big things afoot here. First, my new novel, Mrs Lee and Mrs Gray released in mid June to very good reviews, and I’ve been¬† busy writing several articles about various aspects of the story and giving interviews. I love to talk about historical fiction but the interviews take time and my blog posts kept getting moved further down the list.

Secondly here at the Money Pit, we’ve have several big projects going on and there has been a constant parade of plumbers, tile setters, landscapers, and painters coming and going for weeks now. I keep telling myself the inconvenience and expense will be worth it.

Last week our golden retriever Jake fell ill, just a few weeks after his 9th birthday and off to the vet we went. A flurry of blood tests, organ function tests, and several sets of x rays failed to pinpoint the problem. He was very dehydrated from constant nausea and they kept him overnight to give him fluids. He came home and got sick again so back we went for a sonogram. We still don’t have a definitive diagnosis but so far he’s doing well on a new medication and a low fat diet.

Books read: Too few! But I enjoyed a couple of light beach reads including Shelley Noble’s Forever Beach, and Mary McNear’s The Space Between Sisters and Dorothea Benton Frank’s lighthearted romp, All Summer Long. It wouldn’t be summer without a new DBF novel, all of which are set in my beloved Charleston and her sea islands. I’m reading David McCullough’s Greater Journey about Americans in Paris during the 19th century. He’s my favorite historian. He says he writes for the ear as well as the eye and really so many of his sentences just sing. Reading his work is such a pleasure.

At the end of July we went to East Texas to spend a long weekend with Mom as she celebrated her 85th birthday. She’s having a hard recovery after a fall last September that fractured her hip. She’s our family’s treasure.

Happy August everyone.