A chance discovery about a hospital established by women during World War I results in a well-crafted U.S. debut by Australian author MacColl.
Iris Crane is a naïve girl in 1914 when she travels from her native Australia to France in search of her 15-year-old brother. Tom ran away to enlist in the war effort, and Iris intends to take her younger brother back home. But after she lands on French soil, Iris is co-opted into service by Dr. Frances Ivens and soon finds herself establishing a field hospital for the wounded and assuring her father that both she and her brother are safely removed from the fighting. Now, 60 years later, she’s invited to a ceremony honoring the women who served at Royaumont. The invitation unleashes in Iris many long-buried memories that often blur the lines between past and present. Like the snow that blankets Royaumont in the winter, the story that unfolds is at once chilling yet strangely beautiful. The book touches on the contributions made by a group of pioneering women who succeed despite society’s bias toward their gender; the strong friendships that develop, particularly between Iris and ambulance driver Violet Heron; Iris' increasing love for medicine and her involvement with a man she meets during the war; the men and boys whose lives are sacrificed for a cause many of them don’t identify with or understand; and the far-reaching effects of the war on the generations that follow. While Iris’ memories propel the narrative, her granddaughter’s interwoven story adds another moving dimension. Grace Hogan, an OB-GYN with three children, is raised by Iris following her mother’s death during childbirth. Struggling to cope with her grandmother’s declining health, fears about her son’s well-being and a colleague’s complaint, she, like her grandmother before her, begins an incredible journey of love, sacrifice and, ultimately, understanding.
MacColl’s narrative is fortified by impeccable research and her innate ability to create a powerful bond between readers and characters. Well done.