Unsung Heroes

Kristen Hannah’s latest novel, “The Women,” begins in 1966 during an escalating Vietnam War.

Published May 24, 2024 2:33 AM
3 min read


Kristen Hannah’s latest novel, “The Women,” begins in 1966 during an escalating Vietnam War. Francis McGrath, a young debutante, hears that “the world is changing” and “women can be heroes.” Inspired by this notion, she enlists as a nurse to follow her beloved older brother into the Army.

Frankie (Francis) lands in a hospital on the front lines of the brutal war and is overwhelmed and unprepared for the grisly wounded from jungle warfare. Amid the chaos, she forges enduring bonds with fellow nurses, and loves and loses men to war. Driven by compassion and determination,
she emerges as a courageous trauma nurse.

Returning home, she, like other veterans, faces a harsh reception from a nation in the throes of anti-war hostility. Wrestling with the guilt of being a part of a dark chapter in American history, she discovers that her father, ashamed of her female enlistment, lied to friends and neighbors that she was away studying abroad in Florence. Struggling alone with the consequences and trauma of the conflict, her parents want her to move on, treating grief as if it were “a pool you could simply step out of.”

Like Kristen Hannah’s other immensely popular historical fiction, “The Nightingale,” “The Four Winds,” and “The Great Alone,” “The Women” is a story of survival. Hannah places these patriots, and the challenges of their aftermath, center stage as forgotten heroes. As with her other literary tomes, the pages fly by.

Author Ariel Lawhorn shines a light on another unsung hero in her latest book “Frozen River.” Her inspiration is Martha Ballard, an 18th-century pioneer midwife and healer in Maine, who remarkably delivered over 1,000 babies in her career. An avid diarist, Martha left journals with daily recordings of much of nearly three decades spent mentoring young girls and defending women.

The story opens with the discovery of a body frozen in the river and leads to an ugly legal case involving a young pastor’s wife and the powerful and respected local judge. Martha is called to examine the corpse, and her disputed conclusion as to the cause of death leads her on a quest for truth that threatens her family and their land. As much a murder mystery as historical fiction, Lawhorn’s vivid writing leads us to a dramatic and dangerous final confrontation.

Much of the narrative follows historical record and underscores the grossly unbalanced court system of pioneer days, particularly concerning women. An engrossing character, who often quotes Shakespeare, Martha emerges as a staunch heroine for whom we hope all’s well that ends well.

In “The Demon of Unrest: A Saga of Hubris, Heartbreak, and Heroism at the Dawn of the Civil War,” acclaimed journalist and best-selling author Erik Larson, known for works such as “The Splendid and the Vile” and “The Devil in The White City,” skillfully immerses readers into the tumultuous months between the election of Abraham Lincoln and the onset of the Civil War.

As an overwhelmed Lincoln assumes office, he grapples with a nation deeply divided by a conflict over slavery. Southern extremists pursuing secession state by state pose a formidable challenge, and Lincoln, desperate to avoid war, reflects later on facing trials so great that “could I have anticipated them, I would not have believed it possible to survive them.”

While Lincoln is widely celebrated as a heroic figure, Larson focuses much of this book on a lesser-known hero, Major Robert Anderson. On Dec. 26, 1860, Anderson orchestrates the transfer of his men to a solitary federal fortress in Charleston Harbor, Fort Sumter, and raises the Stars and Stripes. As Sumter commander, he admirably leads his men through months of chaos, miscommunications, and depleting supplies, and endures a two-day onslaught of Confederacy shelling that ignites the Civil War.

Larson’s meticulously researched, detailed narrative, delving into historical figures and events, may at times test the reader’s attention, but at others gives us a suspenseful and alarming political story. Drawing on diaries, slave ledgers, plantation records, and secret communiques, Larson blends personal narratives with the larger political and social tensions in this pivotal chapter in American history. His storytelling is a tapestry, as well as an alert, of the dangerous forces that pushed a country to a dark brink, fueled by radical passions, mistakes, ego, and ambition.

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