Deb Birch is a hospice nurse who has just been assigned to a new patient. Barclay Reed is an academic whose work was discredited due to accusations of plagiarism. His area of expertise is the Pacific theater in WWII and he's dying of kidney cancer. He's difficult and proud, a curmudgeon with everyone but he develops a grudgingly respectful relationship with Deb. Deb is very good at what she does, defusing difficult situations and finding ways for her patients to accept death with dignity. But she can't seem make this same connection with her husband. Michael is back from his third deployment in Iraq and unlike after previous tours, he doesn't appear to be healing at all from the horrors he was asked to witness and to commit. Their marriage, once so strong, is fraying under the stress. So daily Deb goes from work with a dying man to home and a husband who is dying inside. She is holding tight and trying to discover ways to walk judgment free beside her husband. Astonishingly, Barclay Reed and his unpublished manuscript about a Japanese pilot who dropped incendiaries on the Oregon forests during WWII might be giving her the tools to do just this.
There are three distinct plot threads here: Deb caring for Reed, Deb and Michael's agonizing emotional distance as a result of his combat experiences, and the story of pilot warrior Ichiro Soga during and after the war. The tale of Soga inspires Deb's attempts to help Michael, which in turn offer Barclay Reed a vital lesson even in his waning days. In a few instances the lessons from one to the other are too easy. Even so, they do show us how we can learn from all human experiences, how to accept, how to forgive, and how to go forth to whatever awaits us with courage and peace. That the story of Ichiro Soga is based on a true WWII story, although fictionalized to serve this particular plot, is fascinating indeed. Deb is really the main character here though, caring as she does for the people in her life with secondary charactrs Reed and Michael adding dimensions to her as a caregiver.
Kiernan has written a touching novel about healing, forgiveness, and peace. His rendering of PTSD and the ways in which we routinely fail our returning soldiers, so unprepared for regular non-combatant life, is heartbreaking and scary. Deb's job as a hospice nurse is one that has to be difficult, especially as she tiptoes around Michael, trying to reach him in ways similar to the ways she is trying to help Reed reflect back on the important things in his life. Just as these characters grapple with what and who we carry with us, out of guilt or love, throughout our lives, the reader will also carry the lessons they impart. An emotional and nicely done novel about the peace we can find in death or acceptance, this has something both for historical fiction fans and those interested in the post war lives of our soldiers.
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Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.