Tuesday 27 June 2023

Good Night, Irene

Finished June 17
Good Night, Irene by Luis Alberto Urrea

This novel focuses on a little known group of women who worked for the Red Cross attached to the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II. They were set up in teams of three to man Clubmobiles that supported the troops for morale. The large buses were similar to today's food trucks. They served coffee, tea, and donuts, and were equipped with record players and a speaker system to broadcast the music to those waiting for service. These mobile units travelled to airbases, troop stations, and to troops near the front. 
In particular, it focuses on Irene Woodward, a young woman from a well-to-do family in New York City. She is fleeing an abusive relationship, and hopes to do her part for the troops. She goes to Washington, D.C. for training along with a number of other young women, and they get trained to drive the truck they will be operating, and to make donuts and coffee. During training she made friends with Dorothy Dunford, a young woman from the Midwest who has sold her family farm after the death of her parents and the loss of her brother in the war. She is a take-no-nonsense woman with driving skills and gumption. The third girl in the bus is Ellie, a woman from Chicago. 
After training, the women travel by ship in a convoy to England, where they use a British truck until their new wheels are ready. Besides serving at their mobile unit, they go to various troop stations and officers' clubs to do similar work. 
Soon after D-Day, the women take their bus over to France, where they move east along with the troops, finding themselves in some tricky situations and experiencing war firsthand. Although not looking for love, Irene finds herself drawn to a fighter pilot named Hans who pursues her in a way that gains her trust. As Irene finds friendship and love, she also experiences the worst trauma of her life, witnessing situations she never imagined. 
This novel has real emotion and the characters feel very real. There is humour and grief, love and loss, and I was intrigued to see that Urrea found the inspiration for this book in his own mother's experiences as a Red Cross Clubmobile worker. 
An amazing read. 

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