Wives of War
by Soraya M. Lane
This historical novel is something of a “sisters” story about three young English women finding their way to and through romance during the carnage of being front-line nurses in the Normandy invasion in World War II. Unlike men in this war, the young women had to volunteer and undergo rigorous training to then be thrown into the unbelievable maelstrom of the combat field hospitals just behind the front lines in the barbaric fighting in northwest France in the summer of 1944.
A narrative strength of the novel is its depiction of the stresses and horrors of a front-line surgical hospital when the tents start to be overwhelmed with hideous combat casualties. The physical stresses are intense, the emotional onslaught on nurses and doctors overwhelming.
The last third of the narrative wends its way through predictable plot twists and turns, few of which are surprising since all developments are well foreshadowed. The structure of the novel is to shift between the POVs of the three women protagonists. During the first half of the book this allows the reader to see the story with fresh eyes; in the last third of the narrative, the interior dialogues of the women are both long and lengthy. All three romances are favorably resolved and the thesis of the book proved: the women are indeed wives of their war experiences and the maturation that experience brought.
An important realization is that although each woman’s story is an archetype, large numbers of men and women did live and experience very similar stories, and the war, victorious in its conclusion, left great loss and heartache to many.
Takeaways for historical fiction writing:
- The combat-stressed horror inside an evacuation hospital can be as intense as the most savage front-line combats because an evacuation hospital channelizes and concentrates so many wounds and injuries in one place at one time.
- Nurses are the front-line soldiers in an evacuation hospital; the doctors are so necessarily concentrated on the exigencies of surgery.
- The clash of ideals and the consequences of man’s most venal and brutal impulses meet in one place.
- Training is unlikely to prepare nurses and doctors for the magnitude of the onslaught. Like today’s refugee crises, the numbers overwhelm.