The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

The Pull of the Stars' by Emma Donoghue book review - The Washington Post

It’s 1918 in Dublin, Ireland. War takes the country’s young men; the flu takes young and old alike. In the fever maternity ward, Nurse Julia Power gives everything she has to care for her patients during grueling 14-hour shifts. Over three days, she gains the help of a new friend, suffers several losses, and witness the next generation take over for those lost.

The combination of the Irish War of Independence and the pandemic of 1918 creates a nightmare of suffering for those in Ireland. Shortages of supplies, space, and people make for a rough life. But it is better than succumbing to either.

Nurse Julia finds herself suddenly in charge of the fever maternity ward when all other day shift nurses have been stricken with the flu. She steps up to the plate and takes control of her three patients crammed into cots in a too small room. Thankfully, a young volunteer arrives to help her with her many duties. Bridie is enthusiastic and she learns fast. She was raised in an orphanage and knows hardships that Julia can scarcely imagine. Then, a female Dr. Lynn, unusual enough just by gender, but also a rebel, joins the hospital team in times of crisis to lend a hand. The three women work together to wage their own wars inside the hospital walls: the war of life and death of mother and child.

The three beds of the fever maternity ward are filled with expectant mothers suffering from flu. The illness tends to induce early labor and pregnancy makes the illness worse. It takes everything Julia, Bridie, and Dr. Lynn have to save even just a few of their patients from the merciless pandemic.

Mothers come in all shapes and sizes and ages. In Catholic Ireland, the phrase “she doesn’t love him unless she gives him twelve” permeates the ward with deadly consequences. The Pull of the Stars introduces many mothers and caregivers that each have their own path, often forced by the male-dominated society and the rules they are forced to obey. Strong feminine characters take center stage throughout the book. In fact, it is their traditionally feminine traits that save the day and make this story compelling.

Donoghue writes characters that are easy to love. Julia is warm in a way that only a nurse can be. She wrestles with her own choices to not marry and bear children while she watches her charges live the life she hasn’t chosen. Bridie is sweet and curious and you’ll have a hard time finding something to dislike about her. Dr. Kathleen Lynn, based on a real historical figure, is powerful, secure, inquisitive, and intelligent. She combines clinical precision with a bedside manner that all patients need, especially expectant mothers. You’ll find yourself rooting for each of the women that takes a bed in the ward. All unique, all pregnant, all sick.

The Pull of the Stars is broken into 4 parts: RED, BROWN, BLUE, BLACK. These are the stages of colors that a flu patient turns when they are becoming deprived of oxygen. The colors they turn when they are dying.

The ending tugged at my heartstrings. You might want to break out the tissues because Donoghue writes such compelling characters that I didn’t want to leave them… or lose them. I recommend this book to women looking to find themselves and their stories alongside these courageous women. Empowering and heartwarming, you’ll love this female-driven historical fiction.

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