Wednesday, January 24, 2024

The Women

The Women by Kristin Hannah
2/6/24; 480 pages
St. Martin's Press

The Women by Kristin Hannah is an exceptional portrait of a nurse serving "in country" during the Vietnam War and then returning home. This is a very highly recommended, emotionally charged historical fiction novel which will certainly be one of the best books of the year. This would be an excellent choice for book clubs and will certainly result in thought-provoking discussions.

After nursing student Frances “Frankie” McGrath hears the words "Women can be heroes too," while looking at her father's wall of heroes featuring pictures of the men in their family who served their country during a party for her brother Finley who is leaving to serve his country in Vietnam. After she gets her RN she follows the lead of her older brother, and joins the Army Nurse Corps and begins basic training in 1966. Once she arrives in Vietnam, she is overwhelmed by the smells, sights and chaos, but is shown support and the ropes by fellow nurses Ethel and Barb. She quickly steps up and adapts to the responsibilities of a surgical nurse dealing with horrific injuries under extreme conditions.

After serving two years, Frankie comes home and faces a different kind of battle. Her father is ashamed of her service, the country does not recognize nurses who served and sacrificed as veterans, and the country is in turmoil. The only help and support she can find  for her PTSD are from Ethel and Barb who understand what she is going through mentally and help her adapt to civilian life in a changed country.

The writing is phenomenal and manages to create an emotionally charged, realistic, and vivid portrait of Frankie's service and her struggles. I was completely immersed in The Women from start to finish. Part of my complete captivation with the narrative was based on my memories from that time period. I was young, but have vivid memories of events from the sixties and certainly more from the seventies. Hannah managed to create a complete portrait of the women and the times (including clothing).

The experiences the characters experience is heart-breaking. Frankie is a completely fully-realized realistic character who garnered my compassion and empathy. Her treatment when coming back from war to work in a hospital is eye-opening and in many ways disgusting. 

This is the best kind of historical fiction as it takes a long sweeping view covering years of a character's life as society, information, and point-of-views constantly change around the characters. It covers an era and a turbulent time. The narrative is broken into two parts. The first deals mainly with the war and the second with trying to reenter civilian life after the war. 

The Women by Kristin Hannah is a must read novel. I expect it to be on many lists for the best novels of 2024. Thanks to St. Martin's Press for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

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