While I consider myself as an English history buff, I’ve noticed over the past several years that I have been picking up a lot of World War II novels.
Just in the past year alone I read One Night in Winter, The Zone of Interest, Slaughter House Five, Salt to the Sea, The Other Me, Anna and the Swallow Man, The Bronze Horseman, Tatiana and Alexander, Prisoner of Night and Fog, City of Thieves, Once We Were Brothers, Catch-22, Wolf by Wolf, and Rose Under Fire…(wow, quite a few, I’m so proud).
With my interest in this time period pretty evident, I feel like every time a new novel is released about WWII I am at my local bookstore in 2.5 seconds adding it to my collection.
The first one I have heard about for this year, released on January 17, was Teresa Messineo’s debut The Fire by Night.
Did the book kick off my WWII reading experience positively? Keep on reading to find out my thoughts and opinions.
A powerful and evocative debut novel about two American military nurses during World War II that illuminates the unsung heroism of women who risked their lives in the fight—a riveting saga of friendship, valor, sacrifice, and survival combining the grit and selflessness of Band of Brothers with the emotional resonance of The Nightingale.
In war-torn France, Jo McMahon, an Italian-Irish girl from the tenements of Brooklyn, tends to six seriously wounded soldiers in a makeshift medical unit. Enemy bombs have destroyed her hospital convoy, and now Jo singlehandedly struggles to keep her patients and herself alive in a cramped and freezing tent close to German troops. There is a growing tenderness between her and one of her patients, a Scottish officer, but Jo’s heart is seared by the pain of all she has lost and seen. Nearing her breaking point, she fights to hold on to joyful memories of the past, to the times she shared with her best friend, Kay, whom she met in nursing school.
Half a world away in the Pacific, Kay is trapped in a squalid Japanese POW camp in Manila, one of thousands of Allied men, women, and children whose fates rest in the hands of a sadistic enemy. Far from the familiar safety of the small Pennsylvania coal town of her childhood, Kay clings to memories of her happy days posted in Hawaii, and the handsome flyer who swept her off her feet in the weeks before Pearl Harbor. Surrounded by cruelty and death, Kay battles to maintain her sanity and save lives as best she can . . . and live to see her beloved friend Jo once more.
When the conflict at last comes to an end, Jo and Kay discover that to achieve their own peace, they must find their place—and the hope of love—in a world that’s forever changed. With rich, superbly researched detail, Teresa Messineo’s thrilling novel brings to life the pain and uncertainty of war and the sustaining power of love and friendship, and illuminates the lives of the women who risked everything to save others during a horrifying time.
This was a great debut.
While reading the first chapter I though that the book was going to follow Jo and a character called Queenie, but I was very wrong…
I thought that Messineo’s idea of creating characters in both Europe and the Pacific aided in giving a well-rounded view of what women faced on all fronts of the war.
I also really enjoyed both romances featured in the novel, as well as the fact that not everyone in the book got a happy ending, though, the character that did get the happy ending left me a blubbery mess.
My only criticism of this book, and why I fluctuated between giving this book 3.5 or 4 stars, is that I felt that each of the girls stories could have been their own books.
Each girls stories left me with a sense of incompletion, as if I was missing a crucial part of their before or after war lives.
Hopefully, Messineo continues writing in this genre because after reading this debut I will pick up any future books she publishes.
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.