50 in 2012: Book Seventeen

A Woman's PlaceA Woman’s Place by Lynn Austin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

1940’s, Pearl Harbor has just been bombed, and many women watch helplessly their sons, husbands, and brothers enlist to serve their country. A thought provoking story about four women, all searching for something very different, yet hoping for something all the same.

Ginny: a lonely, bored house wife longing to be a part of a cause greater than making her son’s lunch and starching her husband’s dress shirts.

Helen: one of the wealthiest women in town, yet lonely beyond belief. Having spent her whole life “living up to her family name”, she never fully experienced her own true happiness.

Rosa: feisty, opinionated, and struggling to fit into a 1940’s house wife mold while her new husband is shipped off to basic training.

Jean: a factory foreman searching for acceptance in a man’s world.

At a time when war looms, gender roles are challenged, and racial tensions ebb and flow, but never cease, all four women are forced to dig deep within themselves and make life changing decisions. What I found most poignant about this book is the conversation sparked: Helen declares she no longer believes in a God. If there really was a God, how could he bestow the life he has chosen for her on anyone? Furthermore, how could any God allow something so horrific and tragic as war? Rosa admits her educational and religious deficiencies and seeks out Helen’s help, together the girl from Brooklyn and the retired, wealthy school teacher search for an answer to questions greater than themselves.

All four story lines explore the dynamics of gender roles and how they must have affected many households in an era where women were expected to stay home, their job to manage the house and family. The husbands who did not enlist were left to face scrutiny for not serving their country, as well as having their ability to provide and support their family questioned as their wives left the home to work in factories.

As the potential work force decreases, factories are left to scramble for bodies to fill necessary positions in order to maintain quarterly quotas. Here, racial relations are questioned and explored. As is the idea of POWs being brought into work in the factory. Helen struggles with the idea of both: unable to understand how anyone can truly determine one’s worth by the color of another’s skin; yet, she is unable to overlook one’s nationality. All four women learn the devastation and tragedy caused at the hand of racism and hatred.

Multiple layers woven into a beautiful, well written story. Four women who captured my heart. And a book that posed questions that remain long after reading the final word on the last page. LOVED.


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