Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: William Morrow (January 17, 2017)
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’s 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.
About Teresa Messineo
Teresa Messineo spent seven years researching the history behind The Fire by Night, her first novel. She is a graduate of DeSales University, and her varied interests include homeschooling her four children, volunteering with the underprivileged, medicine, swing dancing, and competitive athletics. She lives in Reading, Pennsylvania.
Connect with Teresa on Facebook.
The newsreels often described the work of a military nurse as “glamorous” and “patriotic”. Kay and Jo, two young American military nurses and best of friends were assigned to different countries during WWI. They came to realize very quickly that their duties entailed more than what they were trained for. For Jo, trying to keep six men alive single-handedly at the French front surrounded by Germans and mine fields and enduring severe food, medicine and equipment shortages took both a physical and emotional toll. She learns to hold in her emotions as those she cares for as well as those she cares about can disappear in the blink of an eye without warning.
Kay, in love and stationed in romantic Hawaii soon finds herself a prisoner of war in the Philippines under the control of the Japanese. Privation, intimidation and death threats are reducing the number of nurses and civilians every day. The only thing they can keep from the Japanese are their precious vials of morphine which they hide in their “victory rolls”. (see picture below)
Both women long to communicate with each other and are out of contact for most of the war, neither imagining the horrific trials the other is facing.
This novel was extremely intense and descriptive for the first 180 pages or so. However, this scene building helps the reader to identify with the emotions that each of the women were going through and how it affected their choices after the war. This type of book encourages you to do more research into the subject of military nursing. Nurses suffered shell shock just as much as the soldiers in the trenches did (PTSD) and were often not given the recognition they deserved. I look forward to reading more of Teresa Messineo’s work.