Two army nurses, friends from training, endure the personal and professional insults of World War II.
Debut novelist Messineo captures the intensity of grimy conditions in field hospitals and internment camps as well as the exhausted yet relentless sense of duty propelling Kay Elliot and Jo McMahon. Near the front lines of the western front, Jo finds herself stranded with six patients and a shellshocked doctor. Her co-workers, who had promised to send a truck back for them, have been wiped out by enemy fire, the road has been destroyed, and German troops hover, ready to overtake her field hospital. The doctor is no longer sure which war he’s in, one of the patients requires an immediate appendectomy, only four penicillin doses remain, and Jo’s beginning to feel her heart strings pulled by the Scotsman who’s likely dying of typhus. How will she bring her patients through this latest crisis? Meanwhile, in the Pacific theater, Kay has nearly hit rock bottom herself. First stationed in glamorous Pearl Harbor, Kay had fallen in love and secretly married a devoted pilot. Yet the attack on the base stripped her of everything, and she’s eventually taken prisoner by the Japanese, who force her to work at a POW hospital infested with rodents and possibly conduct unethical medical experiments. Alternating between each woman’s perspective, chapter by chapter, Messineo is at her best when describing the squalid environment and psychological mayhem, creating an All Quiet on the Western Front from American women’s perspectives. In the theaters of wars, these nurses practice astonishing acts of mercy—including the embrace of a lover during a soldier’s death throes. Although some of the romantic interludes siphon off some energy, Jo’s and Kay’s devastating military experiences ring true.
A vibrant telling of the nurses’ nightmares during a brutal war.