The Pull of the Stars

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Title: The Pull of the Stars

Writer: Emma Donoghue

Publishing House: Picador

Date of Publication: July 28th 2020 

Rating: 5 stars

‘’The bone man was making fool of us all. That was what we kids called death in my part of the country – the bone man, that skeletal rider who kept his grinning skull tucked under one arm as he rode from one victim’s house to the next.’’

Dublin, 1918. The world is being torn apart by the final blows of the First World War and the lethal flu that seems to have a mind of its own and no one yet knows what its end will be. In this nightmarish era, babies are waiting to be brought into the world, mothers are risking their lives, nurses and doctors are venturing a minefield. Julie Power, Bridie Sweeney and Kathleen Lynn, along with their patients, are fighting a long, terrible battle within a tiny ward where cries of pain and cries of the newborn citizens of our world are echoing.

‘’I spotted a waning crescent moon speared on a spire and draped in clouds. A red-eyed paper boy, his cap upturned on the pavement in hopes of coins, was singing that rebel song in a squeaky soprano: ‘’Tonight we man the gap of danger…’’

Emma Donoghue needs no introductions. In this novel, she showcases how to contain the entire world and its joys and pains in 3 days. Within the suffocating environment of the maternity ward, we witness the bravery of the mothers who have to fight the flu and brace themselves for the ordeal of birth and the self-sacrifice of the nurses. At the same time, two worlds collide. The old-fashioned views of certain doctors and the nuns and the new methods of a brilliant doctor who has already committed two terrible ‘’sins’’: 1) She is a woman. 2) She wants to live in a free country, an independent Ireland. In striking, shocking scenes, Donoghue writes about what it means to become a mother, the right of the vore, Ireland’s battle for freedom, the hypocrisy of the government and the Church. As we walk through Dublin (uniquely depicted), we will find traces of folklore co-existing with commentary on poverty, social injustice, inequality and the torture of being exiled within your own country.

We experience the infested wounds of poverty and war, the traumas of the ones who returned from the ‘’war that was to end all wars’’ (yes, wrong!) and one cannot help but wonder: is there a point in bringing new life into a world that is being butchered by the wrath of men and the wrath of Nature? For Julia, a sublime character, and the two women who aid her in her battle, the answer is a loud ‘’yes’’.

‘’That’s what influenza means, she said. Influenza delle stelle – the influence of the stars. Medieval Italians thought the illness proved that the heavens were governing their fates, that people were quite literally star-crossed.

 I pictured that, the celestial bodies trying to fly us like upside-down kites. Or perhaps just yanking on us for their obscure amusement.’’

Sometimes, you’re just exhausted and the world doesn’t do you any favours. You have only one option: to salvage a tiny speck of your dignity and your sanity. And this might be enough for a day…

‘’I’d never believed the future was inscribed for each of us the day we were born. If anything was written in the stars, it was we who joined those dots, and our lives were the writing.’’