The Pull of the Stars” by Emma Donoghue

Review by Seana Zimmer, adult services library assistant at the Hillsborough branch 

Women birth babies daily, despite wars, poverty, or pandemics. Now, venture back to the 1918 flu epidemic and medical resources for laboring women in Ireland. Enter three days in the life of labor and delivery nurse, Julia Power, with a backdrop of Catholic hospitals staffed by nuns, abundant poor houses, and men like her brother suffering the physical and psychological effects of World War I.

Nurse Power is a low-level nurse, suddenly on her own and fully in charge of women in labor, who are also ill with the flu. A young girl appears from nowhere. Young and naive, but with an excellent bedside manner, Bridie is eager to assist with duties such as cleaning instruments and finding a doctor. She is a waif who comes from a “home” and doesn’t deem even a glance from the meticulous nuns in charge. Julia takes her under her wing, guiding her and encouraging her through the life and death actions and decisions of these intense days.

This novel contains only a handful of characters, and each one is detailed and complex. The glimpses into the lives of the women in labor are compact with emotion. Glances into other lives, nuns, brothers, staff, are also thorough.  As a reader, it felt like each detail pulled me further into the exhaustion, elation, and frustration of those days. They will not be readily forgotten.

Author Emma Donaghue also wrote the international bestseller “Room,” which was later adapted into a movie.  Explore her many other books available at our Library.