Lauren Willig comes to the blog with a story of bravery, tenacity and overcoming obstacles with
Band of Sisters
Told in two perspectives – the haves and the have nots – we are introduced to the story through Kate, a scholarship graduate of Smith College, daughter of a beer-wagon driver and raised in the rough and tumble tenements of New York City. Contrasted with the voice of Emmie, daughter of a mother known for her ‘good works’ and tireless efforts on behalf of women, and Kate’s college roommate (as well as former best friend). The ladies were ‘recruited’ to travel to France, more specifically the Somme region, during the late summer of 1917. The groups’ purpose is to work with the civilian population and “do for them” everything that they need from medical and housing to clothing, education and everything else.
A few bits you should know before you start this book:
- This is based on actual events with actual people who went to France, very close to the battlefields.
- These were women (with very few exceptions) who were unused to deprivation of any kind: they were expected to graduate, marry well and maintain multiple households – usually with servants, summer ‘cottages’ at Newport, and always be ‘an example’.
- The German army was never more than 30 – 50 kilometers away from where the women lived.
- Deprivations (and attitudes) were legendary – until the women showed they could dig in and do, the questions about why they were there, what they were looking to accomplish, and whether or not they could stay the course were omnipresent.
- Weather, terrain and traumas were always a factor – as well as learning on the fly, adjusting and learning to work with other personalities, attitudes and skill sets. Most of these women were not familiar with actual poverty, injury, farm animals, driving or maintaining vehicles or the endless negotiations, begging and sourcing of supplies.
Now that that is covered – GO GET THIS BOOK! I’ve read plenty of historic fiction and wartime stories, and many of them have been based on actual people, or gleaned from records of such. Willig uses actual excerpts from letters home from many of the ladies that participated, and we always have Emmie’s and Kate’s perspectives on what they are seeing, what they are feeling, and even how they see themselves and each other throughout the years there. From dramatically dangerous situations to actual hilarity and light – the author has managed to give a sense of what was happening, as well as the obstacles overcome – the challenges faced, and even the true lingering horrors of war – for each of the people we get to know. With a dash of romance, the usual infighting and cliques that form in groups and plenty of darkness – what emerges is a story that shows determination and will can overcome obstacles that at first look feel insurmountable and leave us with admiration and a reason to look deeper into the unsung names working to make lives better during war.
Title: Band of Sisters
Author: Lauren Willig
Genre: Dark-theme, Family Saga, France, Historic Elements, Historical Fiction, Political commentary, Setting: France, World War I
Published by: William Morrow
Published on: 2 March, 2021
Source: Avon Addict, Publisher via NetGalley
Audio Length: 15 Hours: 59 minutes
Get Your Copy: Amazon ♦ Barnes&Noble ♦ iTunes ♦ Kobo ♦ Downpour ♦ IndieBound ♦ Book Depository ♦ Google ♦Audible ♦Direct from Publisher
A group of young women from Smith College risk their lives in France at the height of World War I in this sweeping novel based on a true story—a skillful blend of Call the Midwife and The Alice Network —from New York Times bestselling author Lauren Willig.
A scholarship girl from Brooklyn, Kate Moran thought she found a place among Smith’s Mayflower descendants, only to have her illusions dashed the summer after graduation. When charismatic alumna Betsy Rutherford delivers a rousing speech at the Smith College Club in April of 1917, looking for volunteers to help French civilians decimated by the German war machine, Kate is too busy earning her living to even think of taking up the call. But when her former best friend Emmeline Van Alden reaches out and begs her to take the place of a girl who had to drop out, Kate reluctantly agrees to join the new Smith College Relief Unit.
Four months later, Kate and seventeen other Smithies, including two trailblazing female doctors, set sail for France. The volunteers are armed with money, supplies, and good intentions—all of which immediately go astray. The chateau that was to be their headquarters is a half-burnt ruin. The villagers they meet are in desperate straits: women and children huddling in damp cellars, their crops destroyed and their wells poisoned.
Despite constant shelling from the Germans, French bureaucracy, and the threat of being ousted by the British army, the Smith volunteers bring welcome aid—and hope—to the region. But can they survive their own differences? As they cope with the hardships and terrors of the war, Kate and her colleagues find themselves navigating old rivalries and new betrayals which threaten the very existence of the Unit.
With the Germans threatening to break through the lines, can the Smith Unit pull together and be truly a band of sisters?
A copy of this title was provided via Avon Addict, Publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.