Friday 21 April 2023

The War Librarian

Finished April 17
The War Librarian by Addison Armstrong

This historical fiction novel has two timelines. One is in France towards the end of World War I in the fall of 1918, and the other is in the United States in 1976.
In 1918, Emmaline Balakin was working at the Dead Letter Office in Washington, D.C. and came across a letter that was from someone she used to know. The letter had been sent back unopened by its addressee and Emmaline had opened it to determine who it should be returned to. She ended up doing the unthinkable and answering the letter, but it also inspired her to enter the field of war librarianship, and she ended up being sent to France to look after one of the small embedded libraries at a war hospital. 
In 1976 Kathleen Carre has been accepted as one of the first women to enter the United States Naval Academy. She has dreamed of this and trained physically for it. Kathleen was brought up by her grandmother, who served as a driver in World War I, and who has cautioned her about how the military may not meet all her expectations.
As we follow both women, we see how the reality of their situations is different from what they expected. Emmaline discovers the horrors of war, as the hospital she is at specializes in facial damage and gas victims. She also discovers the realities of racism as she sees the black soldiers treated differently than the white ones, with less access to amenities and less care for their health issues. When she finds that the War Department and the ALA who have co-sponsored the libraries have also censored some materials, she is determined to speak up about the wrongs she sees.
Kathleen finds that there are some men in her class, as well as men higher up in the hierarchy who aren't happy about women being at the academy and take every chance to make their lives miserable. She also discovers that the black members of her class, whether male or female, are also prejudiced against. Without her closest confidante, her grandmother, she must try to determine who she can trust, and who she can't as she realizes that she can't face up to the challenges by herself. 
As we gradually learn of the threads connecting these two women, it was interesting to see how the same issues came up in both time periods, as they still do today. 
I read this book quickly, not wanting to put it down, and I needed to see what happened to the women involved in this story, as well as the men who touched their lives. It was both inspiring and depressing as I saw how little progress has been made on relevant issues over the years. 

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