Luis Alberto Urrea lovingly depicts femininity and friendship in WWII.
On this week’s Fully Booked podcast, Luis Alberto Urrea joins us to discuss Good Night, Irene (Little, Brown, May 30). This “remarkable, elegantly written” novel chronicles the triumphs and travails of two women serving in the Red Cross in World War II—inspired by Urrea’s own mother’s service in the Red Cross’ Clubmobile Corps, a fleet of food trucks supplying coffee, doughnuts, and good cheer to the soldiers on the Western Front. “I have spent most of my life preparing to write this book,” says Urrea, a distinguished professor of creative writing at the University of Illinois-Chicago and the acclaimed author of 19 books, including Pulitzer Prize finalist The Devil’s Highwayand NBCC Award finalist The House of Broken Angels.
Here’s a bit from Kirkus’ starred review of Good Night, Irene: “Irene Woodward, who’s escaped New York and an abusive fiancé, and Dorothy Dunford, who’s left her family and failing farm in Indiana, are paired together in a massive truck that, across the novel, heads from England to France and Germany in 1944 and 1945.…Irene, artsy and romantic, has an opposites-attract rapport with the no-nonsense Dorothy, which Urrea plays for both humor and pathos, but he stresses how unified they are in absorbing the constant surprises and tragedies of warfare.…[P]lenty of grit, detail, and twists...makes for both a fine page-turner and an evocation of war’s often cruel randomness. Top-shelf historical fiction delivered with wit and compassion.”
Urrea tells host Megan Labrise about the parts of his mother’s life that inspired the book; why he waited to tackle the topic in fiction; the experience of meeting his mother’s best friend and Clubmobile driver “Darling Jill”; why he decided to “Hemingway” the novel’s first sentence; all about an early scene when Irene’s on the train from New York to D.C.; becoming part of something larger than yourself; the loneliness of war; resilience; third-person omniscient POV; and much more.
Then editors Laura Simeon, Mahnaz Dar, Eric Liebetrau, and Laurie Muchnick share their top picks in books for the week.
In the Tunnel by Julie Lee (Holiday House)
Breaking to the Beat! by Linda J. Acevedo, illus. by Frank Morrison (Lee & Low Books)
Poverty, by America by Matthew Desmond (Crown)
An Island Princess Starts a Scandal by Adriana Herrera (Canary Street Press)
Also mentioned on this episode:
How I Became a North Korean by Kry Lee
The Sorcerer of Pyongyang by Marcel Theroux
When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park
The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip-Hop by Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. by Frank Morrison
Hip-Hop (and Other Things): A Collection of Questions Asked, Answered, Illustrated by Shea Serrano, illus. by Arturo Torres
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life by Anu Partanen
Thanks to our sponsors:
This May Be Difficult To Read: But You Really Should (for Your Child’s Sake) by Claire N. Rubman
Love Letters From an Arsonist by David van den Berg
Coming to Terms With John F. Kennedy by Stephen F. Knott
Fully Booked is produced by Cabel Adkins Audio and Megan Labrise.