In Dublin, 1918, a maternity ward at the height of the Great Flu is a small world of work, risk, death, and unlooked-for love, in "Donoghue's best novel since Room" (Kirkus Reviews).
In an Ireland doubly ravaged by war and disease, Nurse Julia Power works at an understaffed hospital in the city center, where expectant mothers who have come down with the terrible new Flu are quarantined together. Into Julia's regimented world step two outsiders—Doctor Kathleen Lynn, a rumoured Rebel on the run from the police, and a young volunteer helper, Bridie Sweeney.
In the darkness and intensity of this tiny ward, over three days, these women change each other's lives in unexpected ways. They lose patients to this baffling pandemic, but they also shepherd new life into a fearful world. With tireless tenderness and humanity, carers and mothers alike somehow do their impossible work.
In The Pull of the Stars, Emma Donoghue once again finds the light in the darkness in this new classic of hope and survival against all odds.
Donoghue's searing tale (after Akin) takes readers to a Dublin beleaguered by wartime shortages and ravaged by a lethal new strain of influenza. On Halloween in 1918, nurse Julia Powers, single and ambivalent about marriage, is about to turn 30. When Julia's supervisor gets the flu, Julia is left alone serving a ward of high-risk pregnant influenza patients. Kathleen Lynn (the story's only historical figure), an activist involved with the radical Sinn F in party, supplements Julia's own knowledge of obstetrics, and volunteer Bridey Sweeney arrives to help with the backbreaking work. Julia feels a powerful draw to the smart and willing Bridey, whose optimism belies her impoverished upbringing in a brutal charity orphanage. As they cope with the ward's unceasing cycle of birth and death, their closeness challenges Julia's sense of herself and her life. While the novel's characters and plot feel thinner than the best of the author's remarkable oeuvre, her blunt prose and detailed, painstakingly researched medical descriptions do full justice to the reality of the pandemic and the poverty that helps fuel it. Donoghue's evocation of the 1918 flu, and the valor it demands of health-care workers, will stay with readers.