Sunday, November 4, 2012

Lives We Leave Behind.

Lives We Leave Behind.

By Maxine Alterio.

The First World War has been the theatre of many novels and in Lives We Leave Behind, Maxine Alterio brings to life the stories of the nurses through the eyes and lives of New Zealand Nursing Sisters Meg Dutton and Addie Harrington. These two women come from very different backgrounds and have little in common apart from their nursing, yet through the trials or war and all it brings they form a firm friendship.

The story takes us from Wellington, and the anticipation of what is to come, to Egypt on the hospital ship Maheno, into the harshness and realities of war in Egypt and France. The author doesn't hold back on the awful effects of war, from the injuries inflicted upon the soldiers and the harsh conditions in which medical staff were having to provide miracles as well as dealing with the psychological effects on people and the vast amount of death. She does it in a way that is eye-opening, but not grim, as we experience it all through these very different women - Meg who wears her heart on her sleeve and Addie, who is quiet and introspective and finds solace in her books. We see how war changes them, and how love and relationships flourish and suffer in such unforgiving surroundings.

The short sections jump and pull you along, giving a sense of the turmoil and rapid changes thrown at them. They are also interspersed with short segments about the women written from the perspective of the men around them. I thought these weren't necessary as the women's stories conveyed the men's impressions already.

I found this a very rewarding read. At times harrowing, at times very sad, but overarching all of this, the warmth and spirit of the women shone through.

Lives We Leave Behind brings a valuable perspective of war through the eyes of the nurses and is a book I really enjoyed and recommend.