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The human race settles on terms with every plague in the end, the doctor told her. Or a stalemate, at the least. We somehow muddle along, sharing the earth with each new form of life. (265)

She took inspiration from the centenary of the 1918 Flu Pandemic. The book arrived just as the world shut down due to COVID-19.

Emma Donoghue's The Pull of the Stars, possibly her best work since Room, covers a few days in the life of an Irish nurse in 1918. Julia Power lives with her brother who has returned, damaged, from the Great War, to a country divided on whether Ireland should be fighting alongside England. She works the space set aside for pregnant women who have caught influenza. A poorly-educated but resourceful assistant arrives, Bridie Sweeney, a woman raised by nuns. Over days that deliver tragedies and horrors, "births coming pell-mell after deaths," the women develop a bond, a spark that "glowed, begun to singe"(252). We also uncover their connections to the larger world, other staff, and the enigmatic Dr. Kathleen Lynn. Lynn, an actual historical figure, was a doctor and Sinn Féin politician at a time when women in either sphere were nearly non-existent.

The novel ends abruptly, and that may disappoint some readers. Others will be challenged by the lack of quotation marks. Donoghue wanted to blur people's spoken words with "government posters on the wall, the words going through her head, the thing she's trying to remember. It just makes the reader feel a little less safe." However, the author's ability to immerse us in her protagonist's world and mind, the "reeking Dublin streets that were slick with rain" (3) and a life of service in a time that challenges hope makes this novel worth reading.

297 words

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