Band of Sisters

HarperAudio. 2021. 1,559p. ISBN 9780063070332. $29.99. F
While the individual characters in this novel are fictional, the events are based on the actual experiences of Smith College women during World War I. The Smith Unit, as it came to be known, was a group of 18 graduates of the women’s college, who signed up to help with relief efforts in France. Their numbers included a director, two doctors, and an agriculturalist, among others. Armed with money, some supplies, and a can-do attitude, the unit arrived in France to learn that everything would be harder than they thought it would be. From trucks they had to assemble themselves, to arguments with officials over delivery of medical supplies, the Smith Unit was thwarted by bureaucratic red tape and overwhelmed by people in desperate need of aid. Many of the unit’s members rose to the occasion and were able to provide food, medical care, comfort, and hope. Others returned home because of the dire and dangerous conditions. Readers will root for the women’s success, especially for the lead characters, Kate and Emmy, who both find unexpected joys through their work, despite the hardships. Julia Whelan provides distinct voices for each of the members of the unit, which is especially evident in the women’s letters home. Willig’s note at the end explains how she stumbled upon this story and the way the letters written by the real-life unit members influenced her narrative.
VERDICT Listening to the audiobook version and hearing the tension, anguish, and, at times, happiness, provides a deeper connection to the characters in an already outstanding story.
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