Reading a book set in a maternity ward during the 1918 flu pandemic, while currently pregnant during a pandemic might not have been the best idea, but nonetheless The Pull of the Stars came in on my library holds and I could not resist. I have been on a pandemic book kick after reading Severance and Station Eleven, so The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue topped off my pandemic book list.
Set in Dublin, Ireland in the midst of the 1918 flu pandemic, The Pull of the Stars spans three days in a tiny make-shift maternity ward and a nurse, Julia Power, who does all she can to care for her patients and help their deliveries. Nurse Julia is assisted by two other women, Dr. Kathleen Lynn, who is a rumored rebel hiding from police, and Bridie Sweeney, a young volunteer who makes an impression on Julia. As quickly as life is taken away by the deadly virus, new life appears at the hands of Julia, Dr. Lynn, and Bridie. The Pull of the Stars is a story of life and death, hope and surrender, where so much can take place in such a short amount of time, in a small space.
Reading this book made me insanely grateful for the advances that have been made in science, technology, and medicine. It was interesting how some of the tactics used to slow the spread of the deadly flu are the same strategies we are currently employing: masks, avoiding gatherings, social distancing, etc. Julia already had the virus, therefore she is fearless when she cares for her patients. She is methodical, thorough, and passionate about her work and she cares deeply for the women in her maternity ward. Because of the high stress situations Julia and Bridie were placed in, they grew close, very quickly and forever change each other's lives.
What I loved about Donoghue's writing is how much life and intensity she wrote into this story. It felt like a complete fever dream and she packed years worth of events in a three day time span. She finds the light in the darkness of the pandemic, including an unexpected and amazing love story. As quickly as life is swept away by the virus, new life is ushered in at the hands of Julia. It is impossible not to read this book and think about the pandemic we are currently living in.
I highly recommend reading the author's note, as Donoghue explains how she was writing this book before coronavirus was a household name. I found the story behind her book fascinating.
"The human race settles on terms with every plague in the end, the doctor told her. Or a stalemate, at the least. We somehow muddle along, sharing the earth with each new form of life."