A wry, erudite octagenarian’s memoirs tell of surviving a Great Depression childhood, serving as a U.S. Army nurse during World War II in Europe and celebrating her decades-long, post-war career as a loving wife, mother and grandmother.
First-time author Engelman is a gifted natural storyteller–the kind of charismatic lady who effortlessly holds sway over a card table or kaffeeklatsch with her fascinating tales of life’s triumphs and tragedies, personal and universal. Alone, the breadth of her experiences as a healthcare professional both in the United States and abroad would make her book at least interesting to someone studying midcentury social history, but it offers much more. Instead of the glib, self-aggrandizing yarns and social propagandizing that plague most memoirs, the author focuses her sharp mind and pen on chatty, candid impressions of life in a variety of extraordinary situations: as a student nurse, dealing with the maddening, petty bureaucracy of academia and cranky patients; as a young Jew, encountering insidious racism in society and the workplace; as an Army nurse, facing the profound absurdities and horrors of life on a battlefield far from home; and always as a compassionate, quick-witted observer. Though the stories of her stint in France after D day and later in Belgium make great reading–especially a selection of the letters she sent home to loved ones–Engelman’s reminiscences of civilian life are just as fascinating, if less dramatic. Here the book takes on a more relaxed tone, as if the anecdotes have been perfected by endless telling and polishing. Though less self-consciously exquisite as work by writers like M.F.K. Fisher, these well-told tales bring to mind Fisher’s belief in the art of storytelling as a major element in the art of life.
A must-read for WWII history buffs and lovers of homespun storytelling.