Book Club Banter

Women During World War II
By Allison Lee | Apr 28, 2014

I love listening to my mother-in-law’s stories about life in the 1940s. Fresh out of high school, she moved with her family to the coast of Georgia.

Her oldest brother was a Marine in the South Pacific, she, her sister and her father worked at the shipyard, her two youngest brothers were still in school, and her mother cooked and made sure there was food to eat all the time, since both work and school occurred in shifts.

In the 1940s lots of women ventured out further than they had gone before.  My mother-in-law was one of many women who worked outside their homes to help with the war effort.

My book club suggestions for this month are three books that each tell the stories of the lives of women in America during WWII.

The first book is a fascinating work of non-fiction, "The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II" by Denise Kiernan. The author interviewed women who worked in Oak Ridge, Tennessee during World War II.  Oak Ridge was the home of the very secret Manhattan project, so secret that Oak Ridge did not even appear on maps.

Young women were recruited to work on the project and given almost no information about what they would do and even where they were going.  Even while men and women worked, they knew only about their own specific tasks, and were unaware of purpose of the project.  They just knew that it was vital to the war effort.

The second book is by the actress and popular novelist, Fannie Flagg. "The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion" is the story of a Southern woman’s relationship with her mother and her search for a secret from her mother’s past.  Her search takes her to the 1940s and one woman’s family in the Midwest.  The reader meets three feisty sisters who become pilots for the Women’s Air Service Pilots and keep the family business going when all the men are away at war.

The third book is "The Wives of Los Alamos" by Tarashea Nesbit. This book is also fiction, but is based on the experiences of the women who were married to the scientists who worked on the atomic bomb in Los Alamos, New Mexico.  Just like the women who moved to Oak Ridge, these women moved to an extremely isolated area without knowing anything about the work that was to be done.

But in their case, the work was being done by their husbands and they were trying to make a life for their families in the dessert, without many of the conveniences they had enjoyed before the war.  This book has a unique point of view.  It is the only book I have ever read that is written in first person plural.

Any one of these books would generate good discussion and the following questions could apply to any one of the books.

What did was the most interesting thing you learned about the war effort in the United States when reading this book?

Would you have made the sacrifices and done the work of one of the women in the book?

What differences to you see between life and attitudes in the US during WWII and life and attitudes in the US during the last dozen years when the US has been involved in war?

Book Club Suggestion:  If you read a non-fiction book or a novel that deals with a specific issue or historical period, consider inviting someone who has expertise or experience in that area to join your group as a guest for that meeting.

Brought to you by Blue Ridge Books and Haywood County Public Library

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