Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Emma Donoghue's The Pull of the Stars Book Review

Journey to Dublin, Ireland, during the time of the Spanish Flu in 1918 and discover parallels with the world's pandemic experience in 2020 in this fascinating page turner by Emma Donoghue.

I will start by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed the book The Pull of the Stars by Irish Canadian author Emma Donoghue. My book club chose it and when I first picked it up to read, I had forgotten that it was about a pandemic. It is a story of the Great Flu or the 1918 Influenza, which we now call the Spanish Flu. As it turns out, it was good and it was doubly interesting because of the current pandemic.

Set in Ireland in 1918, it tells a fictional story based on the very real world of a midwife working in a Dublin hospital who is assigned to the maternity fever ward. Not much bigger than a closet, this ward is where they quarantine pregnant women who are stricken with influenza. 

We meet a young midwife named Julia Powers who finds herself alone on her shift with the responsibility for all of the care of these sick, pregnant women.  She is at times aided by one of two women. Firstly, Doctor Kathleen Lynn, who is based on a real historical figure and who is wanted by the Dublin police because she was involved in the 1916 Irish Uprising. Secondly, she is assisted by a young volunteer from an orphanage named Bridie Sweeney who has absolutely no training or education but is quick on her feet and ready to do whatever is required of her.

Included within the story is a peek at the science of the time with regard to the flu and midwifery. It is a visit to the Dublin of the times where they were struggling with not just the flu but the devastation caused by World War I and the 1916 Uprising. Along the way, it also shares a look at some of the Irish societal injustices that existed at the time.  

The book is eerily similar to the current world situation even though we have the advantage of modern day science. Amongst other similarities are the facts that some still managed to question the value of wearing masks and others recommended taking weird remedies.

The Pull of the Stars is a page turner, a non-stop story that happens mostly during one long shift in the hospital during which Powers, sometimes aided by Doctor Lynn and/or Bridie, go from crisis to crisis to crisis. 

The timing of the writing of this book may have been a bit unfortunate though it was written before the current pandemic. After all, who wants to read a story based on a pandemic when they are living through one? However, the timing was not deliberate. Donoghue started writing the story in 2018 and the manuscript was sent to the publishers in March of 2020. 

After possibly a brief moment of hesitation because of the subject matter, the book drew me in and it became interesting to see, as the author says, "the way it mirrors our current situation."  The Guardian says, it is "a beautifully modulated historical novel."  I agree.

Reading this book now is different than it might have been before, for sure. NPR says, "The fourth wall of fiction is broken here. The pandemic spreads out beyond the pages into whatever rooms we are quarantined in.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Do I recommend The Pull of the Stars? Yes, I do. I highly recommend it. It is a fast moving account of life in a maternity fever ward with parallels to the current world situation.  Anyone who enjoys historical fiction, has an interest in Ireland and/or midwifery will enjoy this book.  

I think NPR gives another good reason to pick up this book when they say that that Donoghue has "given us our first pandemic caregiver novel - an engrossing and inadvertently topical story about health care workers inside small rooms fighting to preserve life." 

I say, don't miss it. Order your copy from Amazon now by clicking right here.

See you 
at the book store!
Brenda
Treasures By Brenda

More Ireland:

Ma, He Sold Me for a Few Cigarettes


Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


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7 comments:

  1. This sounds like a very timely, gripping story grounded in historical fact. I can see why you enjoyed it so much, despite your initial reluctance to read a novel centered around an earlier pandemic while we still grapple with the current health crisis. Thanks for the recommendation.

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  2. The Pull of the Stars definitely sounds topical ~ in other words, happening during a time of crisis that we can all relate to. Some 45 years ago I had elderly neighbors who lived through the 1918 flu panendemic, and I have thought of them and what they went through often during this past year. Therefore, this book sounds like one I would enjoy reading, especially from the historical aspect.

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  3. Just the idea of being that sick and pregnant during a pandemic is frightening. It certainly takes real dedication on the part of any type of medical or care-giving team to stay committed to patients during a deadly breakout. Based on your review and recommendation, I have no doubt this is an excellent book and perhaps will cause us to stop and appreciate the caregivers in our own communities. Seems almost prophetic that Donoghue wrote this book just before the current world crisis.

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  4. Thanks, ladies, for your visits. The Pull of the Stars indeed was a gripping story. It did a fantastic job of showing what caregivers then and now endure in the line of duty.

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  5. This sounds like a story I would enjoy. And thank you very much for including your comment "However, the timing was not deliberate. Donoghue started writing the story in 2018 and the manuscript was sent to the publishers in March of 2020." I might have assumed that this was one of those books that were written in order to take advantage of the timing and I typically steer clear of those. Thank you for your review.

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  6. I think it would be very interesting reading a novel about the 1918 Flu pandemic, how the people coped and how it reflects our current situation. Certainly a crisis situation we can relate to. I can totally understand your initial hesitation with regard to the subject matter and thought I would feel the same. However, your review has made me interested in it and thank you for the recommendation.

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  7. This sounds very intriquing thanks for the recommend.

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