By: Anita Shreve
Publisher: Little, Brown
Publishing Date: November 2013
ISB N: 978-0-316-09886-1
Reviewed by: Mary Lignor
Review Date: December 1, 2013
This 17th novel authored by Anita Shreve is a lot of things. It’s a story of love, loss, family, and rebuilding one’s life from the ruins of a bad marriage and a story full of horrors of the First World War.
In the beginning, a woman wakes up in a hospital tent in Marne, France in the year 1916. She is suffering from amnesia, doesn’t know her name but thinks it might be Stella Bain. She has skills as a battlefield nurse and is able to drive an ambulance. When she begins to recover, she returns to what she thinks was her duty and cares for the wounded and dying in this hospital. She recovers enough to get a leave and starts out for London, thinking that she may remember who she is and how she got into the middle of a war.
Once in London, Stella becomes ill and is found by a doctor’s wife, who takes her into their home. The doctor, Augustus Bridge, is a surgeon with a practice concerning the brain and also psychiatry. He tries to help and the only clue that Stella can come up with is that she needs to go to the Admiralty House in London as she believes that someone there can help her regain her memory.
Dr. Bridges has a friend at the Admiralty and they go there to look around. A former friend recognizes her and bit by bit she regains her memory, including the fact that she has children in America that she left behind. She is able to remember her real name, Etna BlissVan Tassel. As Stella/Etna’s memory begins to come back, she remembers her life with her abusive husband and the reason she left him. Etna goes back to America, where she connects with her children and decides to file for custody of her son. She works with her lawyer, gets a job and makes a place for herself and hopefully, her son. Etna still doesn’t quite know where the amnesia came from but is working on it with a local doctor. The phrase ‘shell shock’ comes up in her diagnosis. This has not been heard of in the states until returning soldiers came back with much the same symptoms after the war.
This is an extremely dramatic narrative from a very talented author. It begins in France at a military hospital, goes on to London and then to the United States, and back again to London. The author is very keen on the troubles that came up in Europe and the US when the First World War was fought. There were many who did not come back and many who came back in very bad shape. Stella Bain helps the reader remember those who suffered so much from the war.
Quill says: The author did great research concerning shell shock, now known as PTSD, and the work that many women did in the war.