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The Pull of the Stars

por Emma Donoghue

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7035924,107 (4.06)94
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Julia Power, the narrator of [The Pull of the Stars] (2020) by Emma Donoghue, is a young maternity nurse in 1918 Dublin. World War I rages on throughout Europe, while the so-called Spanish Influenza stalks prey much closer to home. Nurse Power knows all too much about both plagues: More and more of the hospital staff are succumbing to the flu, while at home her brother Tim, her only surviving relative, has been mute since returning from the war front.

Nursing duties in the tiny makeshift maternity ward meant to segregate flu-stricken expectant mothers from their healthy counterparts have fallen almost entirely on Nurse Julia. She’s been promised a visit from a new doctor soon, but meanwhile does the best she can to care for her four patients, all in various stages of pregnancy and illness. One of the nuns who run the hospital responds to her pleas for more help by bringing her Bridie, a young woman who lives in the convent after being raised in its orphanage. Julia is dubious about the arrangement, but she finds the unschooled Bridie to be a bright and curious assistant eager to make herself useful.

The women in Julia’s charge come from a range of economic strata, but most are grindingly poor, undernourished, dirty, and ignorant of the natural processes underway in their bodies. When one of them dies while giving birth, it’s Nurse Power who, in the absence of a physician, must fill out the death certificate:

If I’d been the one to write the concluding line in the regulation tiny lettering that filled both sides of her sheet, I’d have been tempted to put Worn down to the bone. Mother of five by the age of twenty-four, an underfed daughter of underfed generations, white as paper, red-rimmed eyes, flat bosom, fallen arches, twig limbs with veins that were tangles of blue twine. Eileen Devine had walked along a cliff edge all her adult life, and this flu had only tipped her over.

It’s impossible not to draw parallels between that long-ago pandemic and the one that swept the same globe a little more than 100 years later. Julia observes the same tendencies in people to deny the severity of the disease, to refuse to wear masks, to prioritize themselves over their fellow citizens, that we’ve all witnessed over the past year. It’s small comfort to know the world hasn’t necessarily become more selfish over the past century, and even less comfort to realize it certainly hasn’t become more compassionate. But even in the midst of so much death, Julia draws strength from her young protégé and clings to, if not a sense of optimism, at least a refusal to succumb to despair.

This book is not for the squeamish. If you’ve seen any episodes of Call the Midwife on the BBC or PBS, you know that pregnancy and poverty can be dirty, bloody, gruesome things. Donoghue spares no details in showing her readers the reality behind the process that generates the cute little tykes in all those cheerful diaper commercials. But if you're able to look reality square in the eye without a soft-focus filter, your reward will be a story that seeks light in the darkness that surrounds us all. ( )
  rosalita | Jun 17, 2021 |
I will not recommend this book to a sensitive reader. The detailed descriptions of a maternity ward during the 1918 Influenza pandemic were very tough. Poverty, war and illness were overwhelming, and the author portrayed that in her style and her words. Pacing played a huge role in this novel. Donoghue takes the reader through harrowing days and restless nights describing the duties of one nurse in minute detail. I appreciated the glimpse into the medical world of 1918 Dublin sometimes highlighting almost barbaric procedures, but also the inventiveness of a war-like environment. She includes commentary on political conflict and describes the way post war stress (now PTSD) played out in different ways. I did feel that the ending was rushed. I would have preferred to spend more time with the characters, but I understand the author’s intent and appreciated that she stayed true to that design. ( )
  beebeereads | Jun 10, 2021 |
  chapterthree | Jun 7, 2021 |
The main character in this 1918 story of the Spanish flu in Dublin is Julia Power and she is supported by Bridie Sweeney and Dr. Kathleen Lynn. Julia is a 30 year old maternity nurse working on the maternity/influenza ward and this story takes place over a few days. It is fast paced and Julia is alone with three patients in labour or about to deliver while she also deals with their symptoms of influenza. This is a Catholic hospital so many patients are very poor, unhealthy, uneducated and at the mercy of kind or indifferent care givers.
Because she is alone, the inexperienced Bridie Sweeney, a ward of the local convent is sent over to lend a hand. She is a cheerful, helpful, and supportive partner to Julia and a friendship quickly develops. Politics comes in to play with the appearance of Dr. Lynn who abhors the treatment of the Irish population at the hands of the British government and the Catholic Church and speaks her mind. She is a great help to Julia who is doing her best to nurse her patients. The other character in the story is Tim, Julia’s brother, who has returned from the war psychologically damaged and is now mute. They live together and support each other.
The book is divided into four chapters, Red, Brown, Blue and Black which are the influenza patient’s skin colour as their health deteriorates.
The characters are well developed, the atmosphere among the staff is well told, the conditions of the hospital, patients and food are very well described and there is a happy ending. ( )
  MaggieFlo | Jun 3, 2021 |
Loved it. Interesting to read about the 1918 pandemic affecting mothers giving birth. The whole story takes place in one room and I couldn’t put the book down. As page turning and as good as her book ‘Room’ ( )
  Annievdm | May 17, 2021 |
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Emma Donoghueautor principaltodas as ediçõescalculated
Emma LoweNarradorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Wood, SarahDesigner da capaautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
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She doesn't love him unless she gives him twelve.
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It's like a secret code, Bridie Sweeney said with pleasure. Red to brown to blue to black.
It suddenly struck me as perverse that someone was said to have grown up in a home only if she had no real home.
That's what influenza means, she said. Influenza delle stella--the influence if the stars. Medieval Italians thought the illness proved that the heavens were governing their fates, that people were literally star-crossed.
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