Band of Sisters by Lauren Wilig

Band of Sisters by Lauren Wilig

I have been reading World War I books lately, and this one was delightful. “Band of Sisters” by Lauren Willig follows a group of women from Smith College who went to France to help displaced villagers rebuild during the war. While it is fiction, the book is based on real people and events.

The storyline alternates between friends Kate and Emmy. Willig moves the plot forward through dialogue leaving the reader to imagine a lot of the scenery, but learning much about each woman’s personality first-hand. Between the chapters are letters home from various characters which serve to add perspective to what has happened, and give another glimpse into the women’s lives.

As you might expect with a novel full of women, there are a lot of strong personalities and some inter-personal conflict as well. The ladies from Smith College manage a little romance with the local soldiers while helping rebuild their corner of France. In this selection from the book, the ladies are fresh off the boat from the US and have arrived in Paris at night. Before they head to their villages, they managed to secure a Parisian attic to rent for a few days from a reluctant proprietor:

“’Oh, Kate! A garret! What could possibly be more French than a garret! I feel like La Dame aux Camélias and Mimi and all the cast of La Bohéme rolled into one!’

Kate grinned reluctantly. ‘This is far too nice a garret for that sort of thing. We need a few more holes in the roof at least.’

‘A garret is a garret,’ said Emmie, wiping the tears of laughter from her eyes. ‘I refuse to be balked of my garret.’

Miss Englund gave them a look of resigned tolerance and began moving the furniture about to make room for pallets.

Unbuttoning her jacket, Kate went to help her: ‘Please promise me you won’t start writing bad poetry and contract consumption?’

‘I’m certainly not going to promise good poetry,’ said Emmie.”

Overall, I liked this book a lot, and I am tempted to read another by Willig. It was heartwarming while not being sappy, but I have a few suggestions. With a cast of 18 women who are referred to by their first name or by “Miss” and a last name, a list of characters would have been useful. A map of the area of France would have been nice too.

I always dread the last chapter of a book like this, because the author generally feels like she must tell us what happened to each and every character we encountered in the book. Willig ended “Band of Sisters” gracefully by using letters rather than prose to give enough information for the book to feel complete but not so much information you wish you had just closed the book at the end of the last chapter when the story actually ended.

You might enjoy “Band of Sisters” by Lauren Willig if you like a historical novel with a little romance, or if you like to read about how various people react to adverse conditions. I listened to “Band of Sisters,” and the narrator, Julia Whelan did an excellent job. You can find this on the new book shelf at the Gering Public Library, or on Overdrive. If you like it, we have other historical fiction books by Lauren Willig as well.