Publisher’s summary: It is 1916, and a woman awakens, wounded, in a field hospital in northern France. She wears the uniform of a British nurse’s aide but has an American accent. With no memory of her past or what brought her to this distant war, she knows only that she can drive an ambulance, and that her name is Stella Bain.
As she puts her skills to use, both transporting the wounded from the battlefield and ministering to them in hospital tents, the holes in Stella’s psyche gnaw at the edge of her consciousness. At last, desperate to find answers, she sets off for London to reconstruct her life.
She is taken in by Dr. August Bridge, a surgeon who becomes fascinated with her case and with the agonizing and inexplicable symptoms that plague her. Delving into her deeply fractured mind, Bridge seeks to understand what terrible blow could have separated a woman from herself. Together, they begin to unlock a disturbing history — of deception and thwarted love, violence and betrayal. But as her memories come racing back, Stella realizes she must embark on a new journey to confront the haunted past of the woman she used to be.
In a sweeping, dramatic narrative that takes us from England to America and back again, Anita Shreve has created an engrossing and wrenching tale about love and the meaning of memory, and about loss and redemption in the wake of a war that devastated an entire generation.
My thoughts: I really liked how Shreve focuses on the experiences of women during World War I and acknowledges that they might not have been in the trenches but still put their lives on the line and suffered the consequences. By telling the story from Stella’s point of view when she has no memory, readers see how the war took its toll on her, and through her drawings, Shreve emphasizes the complexity of memory. The novel is about more than the war and shell shock; it is about the difficulties women faced when they sought independence from the confines of marriage and home. I might have loved this book, but the ending was a bit flat, though satisfying overall.
Disclosure: Stella Bain is from my personal library.
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