When We Had Wings by Ariel Lawhon Novel

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A trio of World War II nurses stationed in the South Pacific fight for freedom and survival in this interconnected story from three renowned authors. You also may like Cursed by Marissa Meyer novel.

When We Had Wings by Ariel Lawhon Review

1941 in the Philippines. They think they’re on a dream assignment when American Navy nurse Eleanor Lindstrom, American Army nurse Penny Franklin, and Filipina nurse Lita Capel become pals at the Army Navy Club in Manila. All three of them are looking for a route out of their pasts, but as time passes, the beauty and promise of their surroundings are replaced by the oppressive weight of war.

The nurses are compelled to serve in battle conditions and eventually endure captivity as the first female prisoners of the Second World War because they are caught in the crossfire of a conflict between the U.S. military and the Imperial Japanese Army for control of the Philippine Islands. The ladies fight to maintain their hope—and the lives of their fellow prisoners—though not without considerable sacrifice as their fortitude is put to the test by filthy living conditions, food shortages, and the enemy’s flagrant disrespect for the provisions of the Geneva Convention.

When We Had Wings by Ariel Lawhon book
When We Had Wings by Ariel Lawhon book

Three women move in and out of each other’s lives over the darkest days of the war in this epic tale based on the real-life experiences of nurses known as “the Angels of Bataan,” spurred by their steadfast friendship and distant fantasies of liberation.

This breath-taking tale of three nurses serving in the Philippines during World War II is written by “three of the biggest names in historical fiction.”

Three well-known writers of women’s literature came together to create When We Had Wings, one of whom (Kristina McMorris) is the author of several touching WWII-era stories. The fact that Susan Meissner, a personal favourite, is also a contributor made me much more eager to read this book than I already was. Perhaps because of my high expectations, this book ended up being incredibly disappointing. Minnesota must be left behind for Eleanor Lindstrom. Her only option, as one apparently does after such an error, is to leave the nation and start over because she has fallen in love with a man whose heart belongs to someone else. She considers herself extraordinarily fortunate when she joins the Navy as a nurse and is assigned to Manila.

She’s not just on a true island paradise, but she’s also acquired two wonderful new friends who have helped her (partially) rediscover her joie de vivre.

Penny Franklin has endured more tragedy than she can handle in one lifetime. She is happy to be relocated from her home state of Texas to the stunning city of Manila in the Philippines after deciding to join the Army Nursing Corps since it will give her the chance to start over. She is sure that the joyful, active environment of the magnificent island will help her forget the hurt of her past.

Lita Capel, a stunning Filipina, was practically orphaned after losing both of her parents. Her key to a better life is training to be a nurse and working in a hospital for the American armed forces. She’ll eventually be able to relocate to the United States to be with her sisters, find a new career that she appreciates more than her current one, and maybe even fall in love. But for now, she is content to have friends like Eleanor and Penny who will support her through the challenging times until her goals come true.

The safest and most secure area of the world at war was meant to be the Pacific Theater. The Americans had believed that by entering the war, the Allies would win the battle quickly. As the cliché goes, arrogance frequently precedes destruction. Which is precisely what occurs in the Philippines: U.S. military forces are forced to retreat before being forced to flee the islands as they fall into enemy (Japanese) hands, leaving behind numerous nurses, support staff, civilians, and soldiers.

I have to applaud the authors for approaching what is now a well-known time period in a novel manner. It’s wonderful to have a portrayal of the Pacific Theater because most WWII stories either focus on the European front, which mostly involved England and France, or on the “war at home” in the United States. Additionally, I must praise their historical research because, despite the fact that I am by no means an authority on the subject, the data provided in the text is comprehensive and consistent with the non-fiction descriptions I’ve read about this field.

Although the setting and historicity present a chance for some great storytelling, the authors have not taken use of that chance. This seems more like a thesis on the evils and tragedies of war than a rich, fascinating setting for the story. In order to create room for incidents and minutiae of daily life, which add little to the plot other than to serve as a reminder to readers of the violence and appalling conditions of PoW camps, fictional narrative as well as character and relationship building are frequently set aside. The narrative of these events is also incredibly narrow; it is primarily recounted from the perspective of the American nurse and military.We see how the Japanese treated the island natives marginally better than European people and armed forces members, but the narrative never really explores what their lives were like. Even Lita’s section lacks a particularly Filipino perspective. Up until almost the very end, all we actually see is Lita aiding her American friends or caring about the cause of the Allies.
Although there are romances in this book, they are overshadowed by the in-depth analysis of what is happening generally rather than what is happening to the characters. The boys are merely outlines rather than fully developed individuals, while the ladies spend relatively little time with the men they fall in love with. Fair enough, the three female leads themselves aren’t much more than that.

The Filipina character being on “Lita time” is another obstacle. Lita’s constant tardiness is gently made fun of in the opening scenes of the novel. The fact that she arrives late saves her life or leads her to learn a huge, crucial secret was supposed to be some type of plot point, but instead it’s just dumped halfway through the story. Given that this specific criticism is frequently levelled in a racist manner towards people of colour, bringing it up and then doing nothing with it felt strange and, to be honest, made me uncomfortable enough that I thought it was worth discussing.

The frequency with which the subject of bowing comes up in the narrative is another annoyance. Even today, a light bob is still considered politeness, a deeper bow, and a sign of respect for someone in a position of power. The wording gives the impression that there is something fundamentally wrong with this tradition.

One trigger warning: This is quite typical of a female-centric combat story, with rape threats and mention of exchanging sex for favours. All of this is not thoroughly discussed. When We Had Wings seems like a weird mash-up of true stories about military life in the occupied Philippines with a dash of romanticism. It hardly ever reads like women’s fiction and has enough of a plot to count as historical fiction. Despite the novel subject matter, I am unable to suggest this book.

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