The Fire By Night
by Teresa Messineo
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (October 3, 2017)
A powerful and evocative debut novel about two American military nurses during World War II that illuminates the unsung heroism of women who risked their lives in the fight—a riveting saga of friendship, valor, sacrifice, and survival combining the grit and selflessness of Band of Brothers with the emotional resonance of The Nightingale.
In war-torn France, Jo McMahon, an Italian-Irish girl from the tenements of Brooklyn, tends to six seriously wounded soldiers in a makeshift medical unit. Enemy bombs have destroyed her hospital convoy, and now Jo singlehandedly struggles to keep her patients and herself alive in a cramped and freezing tent close to German troops. There is a growing tenderness between her and one of her patients, a Scottish officer, but Jo’s heart is seared by the pain of all she has lost and seen. Nearing her breaking point, she fights to hold on to joyful memories of the past, to the times she shared with her best friend, Kay, whom she met in nursing school.
Half a world away in the Pacific, Kay is trapped in a squalid Japanese POW camp in Manila, one of the thousands of Allied men, women, and children whose fates rest in the hands of a sadistic enemy. Far from the familiar safety of the small Pennsylvania coal town of her childhood, Kay clings to memories of her happy days posted in Hawaii, and the handsome flyer who swept her off her feet in the weeks before Pearl Harbor. Surrounded by cruelty and death, Kay battles to maintain her sanity and save lives as best she can . . . and live to see her beloved friend Jo once more.
When the conflict, at last, comes to an end, Jo and Kay discover that to achieve their own peace, they must find their place—and the hope of love—in a world that’s forever changed. With rich, superbly researched detail, Teresa Messineo’s thrilling novel brings to life the pain and uncertainty of war and the sustaining power of love and friendship and illuminates the lives of the women who risked everything to save others during a horrifying time.
When a command comes to fall back, it takes an infantryman less than ten seconds to simply turn around – and run. But not military nurses, whose only creed, whose one, unbreakable rule, is never to leave their patients. Never.
Jo looked at Captain Clark now as he came up to her, hands on hips, spitting before he spoke, and realized how much the movies had conditioned her, had prejudiced her. She’d believed that all U.S. soldiers in perilous positions would be just as truthful, upright, clean-mouthed, good, and pure as they were on-screen. Here was an American, and the odds were against him, certainly. And yet the man was still a bastard.
Kay liked to imagine that somewhere – in a small fishing village perhaps, far from all this – a nice plump Japanese woman was bouncing her baby on her knee, singing him a funny lullaby about dragons and magic kites, because other than her, they all seemed madmen to Kay – cruel, hard madmen. Destroying just to destroy, because the rest of humanity wasn’t human, wasn’t like them.
The Fire by Night was found treasure, it was an extraordinarily well-crafted, poignant, deeply researched, and beautifully written book. The story featured two young female nurses who had become friends during their training and served in the Army during WWII. One nurse was sent to Europe to work in field hospitals frequently on or near the front lines, and the other was sent to the Pacific where she was found herself an unwelcome and poorly treated guest of the Japanese government and placed in an internment camp in the Philippines.
Ms. Messineo’s magical arrangements of words immediately ensnared my full attention and inserted me into the corners of their tents and into their pockets. I heard the weeping, felt the turmoil, and smelled the adrenaline. She also placed me between their ears, behind their eyes, and straight into their souls. I was devastated when they were abused and my heart lifted when they fell in love. Ms. Messineo’s scenes were vividly and thoroughly detailed for sight, sound, smell, and emotional tone. She cleverly wove in exceptional and thoughtful ancillary details that added considerable depth and gravitās to the saga. I was awed by her extensive knowledge, sensitive and insightful observations, and breathtaking word prowess.
I had no earthly idea nor had I ever considered what military nursing during wartime would entail, what their living conditions would have been like, or the hardships the women would have faced from the very people they were serving. If I had thought about it at all, I would have assumed they had been in military hospitals. I finished the book with an intense appreciation for their sacrifice and survival, as well as for their bravery. I do love a feisty heroine, and Ms. Messineo gave me two. I was provided a review copy of this captivating book by HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours.
About Teresa Messineo
Teresa Messineo spent seven years researching the history behind The Fire by Night, her first novel. She is a graduate of DeSales University, and her varied interests include homeschooling her four children, volunteering with the underprivileged, medicine, swing dancing, and competitive athletics. She lives in Reading, Pennsylvania.
Connect with Teresa on Facebook.