Monday, August 26, 2013

Book Review: In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl

In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl
Published by: Penguin Books
Published on: August 27, 2013
Page Count: 454
Genre: Historical fiction
My Reading Format: ARC paperback
Available Formats: Paperback and Kindle versions

My Review:

Iris and Tom Crane, siblings in Australia as World War I breaks out in Europe, watch the conflict unfold. Tom, only 15 years old, confides to Iris that he'd like to fight for Great Britain. Iris, proud that her brother wants to make a contribution as such a young age, encourages him to join the army. It's not long after Tom has left that their father's grief at Tom's absence makes Iris regret her support of her brother. To put their father's mind at ease, Iris heads for France herself. In a chance encounter at a train station, Iris, a nurse, is convinced by Frances Ivens, a Scottish doctor working to establish a field hospital for French soldiers in an abbey called Royaumont, to join her cause. Almost immediately, Iris is named Miss Ivens' assistant and spends the war years tending to wounded soldiers with her fellow medical staff and helping with hospital administration. Iris gets sucked in by the work: she feels useful and enjoys the camaraderie the doctors and nurses (all female) share. Some time goes by before Iris is able to take leave and seek out Tom, who since he is so young is a postal carrier for the army rather than a soldier on the battlefield, much to Iris' and their father's relief.

Iris tells her story as an elderly woman looking back on her time as a nurse in France, and tells her present-day story, which takes place in 1978 in Australia where she lives near her granddaughter Grace and her family. Grace, an obstetrician balancing career and motherhood, has a voice in the book as well, and the two women's three story lines blend beautifully.

In Falling Snow is a story about women and the choices they make: career v. family, attend to duties at home v. travel, and making the right judgment calls along the way. It's a story about forgiving those who have done wrong in the past, and how to move ahead, and a story about making choices for oneself and deciding when to make decisions for someone else. And it's about how one acts under pressure.

Though decades have come and gone between Iris' time as a young women as a talented nurse and Grace's time as a doctor, the struggles they face in their careers in what's more a man's world than a woman's (even in obstetrics and gynecology) are surprisingly similar. And, both women realize that both family and career are what's important to them. 

Though I can't relate to working in the medical profession, I found Iris and Grace to be likable characters I still felt I could identify with. They are both honest and real. They make mistakes and they strive to overcome them. They feel a strong sense of duty and that's what leads them through their lives. I liked the intergenerational approach to the story, and the fact that Iris got to tell her story as a young woman and as one nearing the end of her life. I also liked that even though Grace has a lot on her plate, MacColl gave her a supportive husband, when some authors might have been tempted to let Grace's job and family pressures strain her marriage. I liked David as a character and the role he played in the story.

I was so engrossed in this book from the first page, which involved Iris' early days in nursing during the war, that at first I was speed-reading through Grace's parts just to get back to Iris, not sure if Grace would hold my interest as well as Iris was. After a few chapters I caught on to what MacColl was doing by mirroring the two women's stories and relished them both.

This book is one my favorites from 2013.

Five out of five stars (only a handful of books get this rating from me each year!)

If you liked this book, you’ll like the movie A League of Their Own, the nonfiction book by Leslie Bennetts called The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much, The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees, Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, Z by Therese Ann Fowler, and The Paris Wife by Paula McClain.

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