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The Women by Kristin Hannah

“Thank God for girlfriends. In this crazy, chaotic, divided world that was run by men, you could count on the women.”

Kristin Hannah’s historical novel, “The Women,” is an emotional rollercoaster that plunges readers into the harrowing realities of the Vietnam War. Through the eyes of Frankie, a nurse who faces graphic and gruesome scenes on the battlefield, we see not only the horrors of war but also the challenges of returning home to a society that refuses to acknowledge women’s service in Vietnam.

“The women had a story to tell, even if the world wasn’t quite yet ready to hear it, and their story began with three simple words. We were there.”

Here are the key elements that make this book a must-read:

Frankie’s Struggles: Frankie battles not only the physical trauma of war but also the emotional toll it takes. Her parents’ disregard and disrespect compounded her pain, making her journey back to the USA even more challenging.

“We were the last believers, my generation. We trusted what our parents taught us about right and wrong, good and evil, the American myth of equality and justice and honour. I wonder if any generation will ever believe again. People will say it was the war that shattered our lives and laid bare the beautiful lie we’d been taught. And they’d be right. And wrong. There was so much more. It’s hard to see clearly when the world is angry and divided and you’re being lied to.”

Heartbreak and Addiction: The novel doesn’t shy away from portraying major heartbreak and the impact of addiction. Frankie’s resilience shines through as she grapples with these demons.

“We laugh so we don’t cry.”

Lifelong Bonds: Ethel and Barb, fellow nurses in Vietnam, become Frankie’s lifelines. Their understanding of PTSD and unwavering friendship provide solace amidst chaos.

“At twenty-five, Frankie moved with the kind of caution that came with age; she was constantly on guard, aware that something bad could happen at any moment. She trusted neither the ground beneath her feet nor the sky above her head. Since coming home from war, she had learned how fragile she was, how easily upended her emotions could be.”

Masterful Storytelling: Hannah’s writing is realistic and raw. Complex characters face genuine struggles, making their survival and strength all the more compelling.

“Women can be heroes.”

A Tribute to Unsung Heroes: “The Women” pays homage to the women who served in Vietnam, sharing their untold stories of courage and bravery.

“Nurses back in the world are second-class citizens. And, big surprise—they’re mostly women. Men keep us in boxes, make us wear starched virgin white, and tell us that docs are gods. And the worst part is, we believe them.”

Historical Context: The novel deftly weaves social and political affairs into the lives of these women. From the Civil Rights Movement to Watergate, it captures momentous historical events.

“From here, the war was almost beautiful. Maybe that was a fundamental truth: War looked one way for those who saw it from a safe distance. Close up, the view was different”

Gut-Wrenching but Hopeful: Prepare to be gutted by the emotional intensity, yet find hope in the resilience of sisterhood.

“For a moment she held back, but the effort it took felt toxic, as if the stories she wanted to share might turn to poison inside of her.”

Soundtrack: Music plays an important part in the story, it creates a sense of place and mood. It becomes a character of its own. I was thrilled to find a number of playlists on Spotify featuring the songs mentioned in the book.

I read “Another Life”, one of this author’s earlier books, last year, and now I fully understand why a number of reviews stated that it was different from her more well-known, recent works. “The Women” is one of my favourite books of the year to date. “The Nightingale” and “The Great Alone,” are now firmly on my to-be-read list.

“She wouldn’t be surprised if those death stares would be a part of them forever now. Men staring into a world they no longer were a part of, no longer comprehended, a world where the ground beneath your feet exploded. Another kind of casualty.”

In summary, “The Women” deserves all the stars. It’s a beautifully tragic and mesmerising tribute to the women who served, leaving an undeniable mark on history.

“Maybe happy now, happy for a moment, is all we really get. Happy forever seems a shitload to ask in a world on fire.”

Thanks to Pan MacMillan SA for the opportunity to read this book!