The Women by Kristin Hannah


Kristin Hannah, celebrated author of The Four Winds, The Nightingale and recent Netflix adaptation Firefly Lane, is well known for the power and emotional depth of her movingly human stories. Now she’s back with an epic tale of love, war, heroism and horror that explores a lesser known aspect of an infamously complex and devastating war… and the changing landscape that struggled to contain it.

When we think about the Vietnam War, there’s a fair chance that we’re thinking about protests and napalm and incredibly memorable cinema: of the trauma of young men and the callous folly of those in charge. Of a cultural revolution. But what about the young women who joined the fight? Are we thinking about them? The nurses who held the survivors together, comforted the dying and returned to find everything changed?

Nursing student Frankie McGrath grows up in an idyllic part of America, sheltered by her parents and quilted by the conservative ideas around her. She does the right thing when she can, and she has a sense of what lies before her. But everything changes in 1965. Everything changes when her brother leaves to serve as a young soldier in Vietnam. It changes her world. Suddenly she realises that heroism can take many forms, that she too can be a hero. On an impulse, drastically changing course, she joins the Army Nurse Corps, following her brother into war and stepping into an unknown future.

But what Frankie actually discovers is that whatever you endure, however many wartime horrors you survive and however many traumas you carry, returning to regular life in a country unhappy to have you is impossible… and a hero’s greeting even more so.

In Vietnam, Frankie establishes herself as a skilled surgical nurse. Navigating the gore and agony of her besieged hospital wards with great compassion and vigour, she discovers not just her capacities for healing but also her ability to love. But back in a USA torn up by riots and protests she is treated like so many other returning veterans – with scorn, antagonism and hatred. Even her family disapproves of her. Home is no longer home… and only through the strong friendships she formed with the other women of war can Frankie hope to make sense of a life that can never again be what it was.

Highly emotive and expertly woven from fact and feeling in equal measure, The Women does what the best historical novels do – uncovers a complex part of the past by taking hold of your heart.

Likely to inspire many a gripping bookclub debate, undeniably powerful and beautifully written, this is Hannah at her best.