Book Review: The Fire by Night
Synopsis: A powerful and evocative debut novel about two American military nurses during World War II that illuminates the unsung heroism of women who risked their lives in the fight—a riveting saga of friendship, valor, sacrifice, and survival combining the grit and selflessness of Band of Brothers with the emotional resonance of The Nightingale.
In war-torn France, Jo McMahon, an Italian-Irish girl from the tenements of Brooklyn, tends to six seriously wounded soldiers in a makeshift medical unit. Enemy bombs have destroyed her hospital convoy, and now Jo singlehandedly struggles to keep her patients and herself alive in a cramped and freezing tent close to German troops. There is a growing tenderness between her and one of her patients, a Scottish officer, but Jo’s heart is seared by the pain of all she has lost and seen. Nearing her breaking point, she fights to hold on to joyful memories of the past, to the times she shared with her best friend, Kay, whom she met in nursing school.
Half a world away in the Pacific, Kay is trapped in a squalid Japanese POW camp in Manila, one of thousands of Allied men, women, and children whose fates rest in the hands of a sadistic enemy. Far from the familiar safety of the small Pennsylvania coal town of her childhood, Kay clings to memories of her happy days posted in Hawaii, and the handsome flyer who swept her off her feet in the weeks before Pearl Harbor. Surrounded by cruelty and death, Kay battles to maintain her sanity and save lives as best she can . . . and live to see her beloved friend Jo once more.
When the conflict at last comes to an end, Jo and Kay discover that to achieve their own peace, they must find their place—and the hope of love—in a world that’s forever changed. With rich, superbly researched detail, Teresa Messineo’s thrilling novel brings to life the pain and uncertainty of war and the sustaining power of love and friendship, and illuminates the lives of the women who risked everything to save others during a horrifying time.
My review: 3.5 stars.
Probably not a shocker that I read yet another piece of historical fiction about World War II. This was especially interesting to me because of the undergraduate research I did on nurses during the war, as well as an exhibit that centered on the experience and World War II uniforms, belongings, and ephemera of one Army nurse who was the great aunt of my then roommate.
There are a lot of novels centered on World War II because of how tumultuous and life changing the time period was- it’s full of interesting people and stories that should be told. Fire by Night is a different spin on the World War II story not only because it’s coming from the perspective of the nurses, but also because it’s very detailed and well-researched, without being boring or too much like a history lesson. Fire by Night is told by Jo and Kay in alternating chapters, and even though they are separated during the war, their experiences as nurses is very similar. It’s a novel about their experiences, but also about their friendship.
It’s the first book by this author and the reading guide and author’s interview at the back of the novel was quite telling about her writing and research experience. She spent 7 years (!) researching this book, and it’s obvious that she invested a lot of time in getting the details and information correct, which I greatly appreciate. I would love to know more about some of the people she interviewed and how much of their stories are reflected in the final text.
The details of the war, on both fronts, is so well-done that my weak stomach could not take a lot of the descriptions of the various medical scenarios both nurses are involved with. This made me have to skim some of the book more than I’d like, but some of the descriptions were just too vivid for me ( there’s a scene with Jo in Germany during an operation to take out a soldier’s appendix that really made me feel gross). I wouldn’t say that’s a reason to skip the book entirely, as I enjoyed the characters and this new perspective on a unique experience during World War II, but just be warned that if descriptions of blood and injuries bother you, it’s not a book to read while eating a meal!
As part of the TLC Book Tour for this book, I was provided an advanced copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.