Staff Picks Book Review - The Woman by Kristin Hannah

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

The Woman by Kristin HannahFrances McGrath, known to her friends as Frankie, was raised to idolize military service. One wall of her father's office in their California home is referred to as the "wall of heroes", displaying the McGrath men who served with distinction in America's various conflicts. As we meet the McGrath family, they are celebrating the graduation of Fin, Frankie's older brother, from the United States Naval Academy. As Fin is preparing to take his place on the wall of heroes by joining the war in Vietnam, Frankie also feels the need to serve and begins training as an Army combat nurse. Once the shock of being “in country” wears off, Frankie finds that nursing is the most rewarding thing she has ever done with her life and that bravery does not require carrying a gun. Among her fellow nurses and the combat surgeons who come through the unit, she makes the kinds of friendships that only come out of true hardship and loss. Ultimately, the hardest part of Frankie’s service is coming home and facing the country that has turned its back on her and the men she worked so hard to save.

The characters in The Women live in the world of American 1960s. Hannah brings political angst through Frankie, and the other women she served with, as they readjust after their tours in Vietnam. Though some basic historical knowledge is useful in reading, The Women is not about the battles of the Vietnam War and does not analyze the reasons for the conflict. It is a book for those who enjoy a good personal story to pull on the heart strings. If you are currently on wait for an available copy or looking for a similar historical read, try some of these great titles.

The Beantown Girls by Jane Healey

Fiona Denning has her entire future planned out. She'll work in city hall, marry her fiancé when he returns from the war, and settle down in the Boston suburbs. But when her fiancé is reported missing after being shot down in Germany, Fiona's long-held plans are shattered. Determined to learn her fiancé's fate, Fiona leaves Boston to volunteer overseas as a Red Cross Clubmobile girl, recruiting her two best friends to come along. There's the outspoken Viviana, who is more than happy to quit her secretarial job for a taste of adventure. Then there's Dottie, a shy music teacher whose melodious talents are sure to bring heart and hope to the boys on the front lines. Chosen for their inner strength and outer charm, the trio isn't prepared for the daunting challenges of war. But through it all come new friendships and romances, unforeseen dangers, and unexpected dreams. As the three friends begin to understand the real reasons they all came to the front, their courage and camaraderie will see them through some of the best and worst times of their lives.

The World Played Chess by Robert Dugoni

In 1979, Vincent Bianco has just graduated high school. His only desire: collect a little beer money and enjoy his final summer before college. He lands a job as a laborer on a construction crew. Working alongside two Vietnam vets, one suffering from PTSD, Vincent gets the education of a lifetime. Now forty years later, with his own son leaving for college, the lessons of that summer, Vincent's last taste of innocence and first taste of real life, dramatically unfold in a novel about breaking away, shaping a life, and seeking one's own destiny

Daughters of the Night Sky by Aimie K. Runyan

Katya Ivanova is a young pilot in a far-flung military academy in the Ural Mountains. From childhood, she's dreamed of taking to the skies to escape her bleak mountain life. With the Nazis on the march across Europe, she is called on to use her wings to serve her country in its darkest hour. Not even the entreaties of her new husband, a sensitive artist who fears for her safety, can dissuade her from doing her part as a proud daughter of Russia. After years of arduous training, Katya is assigned to the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, one of the only Soviet air units comprised entirely of women. The Germans quickly learn to fear nocturnal raids by the daring fliers they call Night Witches. But the brutal campaign will exact a bitter toll on Katya and her sisters-in-arms. When the smoke of war clears, nothing will ever be the same and one of Russia's most decorated military heroines will face the most agonizing choice of all.

A Bakery in Paris: A Novel by Aimie K. Runyan

This captivating historical novel set in nineteenth-century and post–World War II Paris follows two fierce women of the same family, generations apart, who find that their futures lie in the four walls of a simple bakery in a tiny corner of Montmartre. 1870: The Prussians are at the city gates, intent to starve Paris into submission. Lisette Vigneau, headstrong, willful, and often ignored by her wealthy parents, awaits the outcome of the war from her parents' grand home in the Place Royale in the very heart of the city. When an excursion throws her into the path of a revolutionary National Guardsman, Theodore Fournier, her destiny is forever changed. She gives up her life of luxury to join in the fight for a Paris of the People. She opens a small bakery with the hopes of being a vital boon to the impoverished neighborhood in its hour of need. When the city falls into famine, and then rebellion, her resolve to give up the comforts of her past life is sorely tested.

Dust Child: A Novel by Phan Quế Mai Nguyễn

In 1969, sisters Trang and Quynh, desperate to help their parents pay off debts, leave their rural village and become "bar girls" in Sái Gón, drinking, flirting (and more) with American GIs in return for money. As the war moves closer to the city, the once-innocent Trang gets swept up in an irresistible romance with a young and charming American helicopter pilot. Decades later, an American veteran, Dan, returns to Vietnam with his wife, Linda, hoping to find a way to heal from his PTSD and, unbeknownst to her, reckon with secrets from his past. At the same time, Phong, the son of a Black American soldier and a Vietnamese woman, embarks on a search to find both his parents and a way out of Vietnam. Abandoned in front of an orphanage, Phong grew up being called "the dust of life," "Black American imperialist," and "child of the enemy," and he dreams of a better life for himself and his family in the U.S. Past and present converge as these characters come together to confront decisions made during a time of war, decisions that force them to look deep within and find common ground across race, generation, culture, and language.

The Sunshine Girls: A Novel by Molly Fader

Nursing school roommates Betty Kay and Kitty don't have much in common. Betty Kay has risked her family's disapproval to pursue her dreams away from her small town. Cosmopolitan Kitty has always relied on her beauty and smarts to get by and to hide a painful secret. Yet the two share a determination to prove themselves in a changing world, forging an unlikely bond on a campus unkind to women. Before their first year is up, tragedy strikes, and the women's paths are forced apart. But against all odds, a decades-long friendship forms, persevering through love, marriage, failure, and death, from the jungles of Vietnam to the glamorous circles of Hollywood. Until one snowy night leads their relationship to the ultimate crossroads. Fifty years later, two estranged sisters are shocked when a famous movie star shows up at their mother's funeral. Over one tumultuous weekend, the women must reckon with a dazzling truth about their family that will alter their lives forever.

Switchboard Soldiers: A Novel by Jennifer Chiaverini

A bold and revelatory novel about one of the great untold stories of World War I, the women of the US Army Signal Corps, who broke down gender barriers in the military, smashed the workplace glass ceiling, and battled a pandemic as they helped lead the Allies to victory.

Healing Wounds by Diane Carlson

In 1983, when Evans came up with the vision for the first-ever memorial on the National Mall to honor women who'd worn a military uniform, she wouldn't be deterred. She remembered not only her sister veterans, but also the hundreds of young wounded men she had cared for, as she expressed during a Congressional hearing in Washington, D.C.: "Women didn't have to enter military service, but we stepped up to serve believing we belonged with our brothers-in-arms and now we belong with them at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. If they belong there, we belong there. We were there for them then. We mattered." In the end, those wounded soldiers who had survived proved to be there for their sisters-in-arms, joining their fight for honor in Evans' journey of combating unforeseen bureaucratic obstacles and facing mean-spirited opposition. Her impassioned story of serving in Vietnam is a crucial backstory to her fight to honor the women she served beside. She details the gritty and high-intensity experience of being a nurse in the midst of combat and becomes an unlikely hero who ultimately serves her country again as a formidable force in her daunting quest for honor and justice.

Come Fly the World: The Jet-Age Story of the Women of Pan Am by Julia Cooke

Glamour, danger, liberation: in a Mad Men era of commercial flight, Pan Am World Airways attracted the kind of young woman who wanted out, and wanted up. Required to have a college education, speak two languages, and possess the political savvy of a Foreign Service officer, a jet-age stewardess serving on iconic Pan Am between 1966 and 1975 also had to be between 5′3" and 5′9", between 105 and 140 pounds, and under 26 years of age at the time of hire. Cooke's intimate storytelling weaves together the real-life stories of a memorable cast of characters, from small-town girl Lynne Totten, a science major who decided life in a lab was not for her, to Hazel Bowie, one of the relatively few Black stewardesses of the era, as they embraced the liberation of their new jet-set life. Cooke brings to light the story of Pan Am stewardesses' role in the Vietnam War, as the airline added runs from Saigon to Hong Kong for planeloads of weary young soldiers straight from the battlefields, who were off for five days of R&R, and then flown back to war. Finally, with Operation Babylift, the dramatic evacuation of 2,000 children during the fall of Saigon, the book's special cast of stewardesses unites to play an extraordinary role on the world stage.