The right book can instantly transport you to anywhere — and anytime — in the world. Every Thursday, we recommend one of our favorite books with a strong sense of place so you can see the sights, meet remarkable people, go on exciting adventures, and feel big feelings. Bonus: You don't even have to put on pants.
This post is part of our 'Weekend Getaway' series.
It’s been more than a century since the Spanish flu wreaked havoc on the world, but the elements of this story are painfully timely. The suspense, heartbreak, and friendships that drive the plot are a time machine back to 1918 Dublin. And although it’s not an easy story to read, it’s ultimately an uplifting experience to spend time with these characters who never give up.
Almost all of the action in this historical novel takes place in one room over three days: a hospital ward for pregnant women afflicted with the Spanish flu in 1918 Dublin.
Through our narrator Julia, a capable and kind nurse, we’re dropped into the day-to-day grind of the frontline workers in an overwhelmed city hospital. As the other nurses fall prey to fever, Julia is thrust into leading the ward. She becomes almost the sole contact for women who are scared and suffering. They’re mostly poor and young and all ill with the flu. One is beaten by her husband. Another is unwed.
When one of her patients dies, Julia, completing the necessary paperwork, thinks to herself, ‘I’d have been tempted to put: Worn down to the bone. Mother of five at twenty-four, an underfed daughter of underfed generations… this flu had only tipped her over.’
Angered and saddened by the plight of her patients — too many pregnancies, not enough food — Julia is almost as exhausted as her charges. They’ve all been beaten down by life, by poverty, by the judgment of the Catholic Church, and by society’s expectations of a woman’s responsibility: ‘She doesn’t love him unless she gives him twelve.’
Julia is joined on the ward by two other remarkable women. Bridie, an orphan who grew up in a convent, surviving beatings and deprivation to become a curious young woman with indomitable optimism. And Dr. Kathleen Lynn, who was a real-life rabble-rouser in turn-of-the-century Ireland. A suffragette, a member of Sinn Fein, and an activist devoted to social justice. In the novel, she works tirelessly to save the women in her care; in real life, she opened the first children’s hospital in Ireland.
This is historical fiction that reads like a thriller with a page-turning plot that hinges on both quiet moments and heroic feats — with life and death consequences — pulled off by super-human and all-too-human medics willing to put themselves in harm’s way for their patients.
Heads up: We love the audiobook version narrated by Emma Lowe.
I gazed up at the sky and let my eyes flicker from one constellation to another, to another, jumping between stepping stones. I thought of the heavenly bodies throwing down their narrow ropes to hook us. I’ve never believed the future was inscribed for each of us the day we were born. If anything were written in the stars, it was we who joined those dots, and our lives were the writing. — Emma Donoghue
This historical novel (304 pages) was published in July of 2020 by Little, Brown and Company. The book takes you to 1918 Dublin. Melissa read The Pull of the Stars and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.
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