“It was peace that still reeked of war and death and starvation and torture. How could it ever come right? How could God fix it? How could the world ever recover from this? And it wasn’t over yet.”
Part historical fiction, part romance, all parts enchanting: The Fire by Night by Teresa Messineo tells the stories of World War II nurses and best friends Jo McMahon and Kay Elliot.
Jo is stationed in France and determined to keep her patients alive in their makeshift, supply-barren medical tent. She is the last woman standing after an explosion takes the lives of her fellow nurses and doctors. With hardly enough food for one person, Jo divides the rations to serve six wounded officers plus herself – if there’s anything left.
Meanwhile, Kay is trapped underground as a POW in a Japanese internment camp missing the days of her posting in Hawaii. It was there that she fell in love with the man of her dreams, and it was there that she lost everything. Her short-lived happiness was taken from her in an instant, and now she must fight for her life. Whether or not she wants to live is another story, judging by the vials of morphine she and the other nurses are hoarding in secret.
When the war is finally over and peace has been restored, Jo and Kay quickly learn that “peace” is subjective. The two women struggle to cope in the aftermath of so much death, loss, and fear.
I instantly fell in love with Jo and Kay and their dedication to helping others in spite of their own physical (and emotional) frailty. The strength of these women is so inspiring, and Teresa Messineo’s thoroughly researched novel kept me deeply invested in her telling of World War II. Despite being told they’re living in a “man’s world,” Jo and Kay demand and earn the respect they deserve as decorated veterans. Their determination and selflessness gave me an insight into the thankless jobs these women loved so much. The feminist in me can’t help but celebrate their victories, both personal and within their work.
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