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."
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.
Treasures By Brenda
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