The Fire By Night by Teresa Messineo
The Fire By Night is the story of two best friends, both army nurses, during WWII. Jo is stationed at the western front in France in a field hospital. One night their position gets eclipsed into enemy territory, and while she waits for support to help pack up the hospital tents and move the patients, they become stranded and surrounded by enemy forces, although untouched. When he realizes their perilous position, the physician stationed at the hospital commits suicide, leaving Jo alone with six injured soldiers to care for with very limited supplies and the risk of death if any of them step outside the hospital tent. Jo ends up performing an appendectomy, saving one officer's life, and finds ways to stretch their food and supplies to help all of the men slowly recover. As she thinks she's losing herself and her mind with exhaustion of both the body and the soul, enshrouded in the pain of the loss of so many of her loved ones, she finds hope and strength in her relationship with one of the patients, a Scottish man with typhoid.
In the Philippines, Jo's best friend, Kay is stationed in a military base that is taken by the Japanese and she is moved to a POW camp in Manila. There she suffers deprivations nearly beyond description as the prisoners are beaten and starved, and she is forced to continue nursing with nearly no supplies, just basically watching her fellow Americans die before her eyes. Before they were moved to the Philippines, Kay fell in love with an American soldier, married him, and became pregnant, but he was killed as the base was taken, and the poor conditions lead to Kay's miscarriage. Finally, after losing over 50 pounds during her time in the camp, Kay and her fellow remaining compatriots are rescued by American troops and taken to Hawaii to recover.
In the last quarter of the book, both women struggle to find their place in the new world, trying to find their way through all of the pain and suffering and trauma they've been through. Jo decides to stay in England, canvassing for funds for veterans and trying to track down her Scottish patient, with whom she is madly in love. Kay tries to heal her heart as her body slowly heals, and she stays on as an Army nurse, feeling useful as she cares for others while she tries to figure out how to care for herself.
I have a tender heart that is particularly sensitive to violence and torture, and this book was hard to read. I loved reading the author's note at the end as she talked about how hard it was to write, and felt even more connected to the book after reading her experience. She felt that this story flowed through her onto the pages, not that she created it, and that tears would often run down her face as she wrote, her heart hurting for the hurt the women had experienced. As a nurse myself, I could relate to Kay and Jo, and was interested in their story, and I closed this book with an even greater love and appreciation for the nurses of WWII. They were good, strong, brave women who saw and suffered much, and did an inestimable amount of good in their work. I am grateful for Messineo's willingness to tell this story. A great book for nurses, WWII, or historical fiction buffs. I learned a lot about the war in the Philippines, which I previously didn't have much knowledge of. Although to be read with a box of tissues, I heartily recommend this moving, touching book.