Book Review for “Angels of the Pacific” by Elise Hooper.
Summary: “The Philippines, 1941. Tess Abbott, an American Army nurse, has fled the hardships of the Great Depression at home for the glamour and adventure of Manila, one of the most desirable postings in the world. But everything changes when the Japanese Imperial Army invades with lightning speed and devastating results. Tess and her band of nurses serve on the front lines until they are captured as prisoners of war and held behind the high stone walls of Manila’s Santo Tomas Internment Camp for four long years. When the Japanese occupation of her beloved homeland commences, Flor Dalisay, a Filipina university student, will be drawn into the underground network of resistance, discovering within herself reserves of courage, resilience, and leadership she never knew she possessed.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Historical, Philippines; Other Categories: Novel, WWII.
Let me start out by saying that I have a feeling that reading this book exactly when Russia started a war by invading Ukraine might have been unfortunately serendipitous, and this might have colored my opinion of this book. This could also be one reason why I almost stopped reading this book early on, but I’m still glad I continued, even though some of it made me uncomfortable. In any case, I’m hoping that I can still be objective here, and I reserve the right to change my mind about this book in the future. I should also mention that I don’t know much about what happened during WWII in the Pacific, and this was why I decided I wanted to read this novel. Obviously, having enjoyed Hooper’s last book about the women who competed in the 1936 Olympics track team, I knew I’d be getting a dedicated women’s fiction novel, about unsung female heroes, and as far as that went, I wasn’t at all disappointed.
The other thing that didn’t disappoint was Hooper’s writing. She really knows how to show her readers what is going on so that we can picture the action. While not highly poetic, her descriptive passages are very evocative, and there were times when I could feel the heat and humidity through her words. As noted, I really had no idea of what went on in that arena of WWII, and Hooper spelled it out in great detail. Furthermore, Hooper also knows how to paint ultimately sympathetic characters, with whom we as readers can easily connect. Several times while reading this book I really wanted to reach out and hug both Flor and Tess, to help alleviate their suffering and ease their hardships. And yes, there was a point later in the novel that did make me choke up and shed some tears, so kudos for that!
All that said, I can’t help shake the feeling that Hooper bit off more than she could chew with this one. When I started reading, I got the distinct feeling that we went from 0 to 60 in a split second. Things just came out so fast and furious, I was worried that I wasn’t going to be able to build any connections with these protagonists. Thankfully, that did happen as the book went on, and the pace did get more evenhanded in the middle of the book. I was also a bit unsure that Flor’s story was the right one to tell. You see, Flor’s sister Iris was the connection between Tess and Flor, and I was unsure if Flor was an equal enough character to Tess to justify her separate POV chapters.
In fact, I’m wondering if it wouldn’t have been better for Hooper to write two connected novels – one for Tess and one for Flor (and/or Iris). I’m thinking this also because as we reach the end of the novel, the pace picks up once again to almost a frenzy (which makes sense, as the war starts coming to its conclusion), and then jumps ahead to 1966. Again, although the concluding chapters are fascinating, I just felt a bit of a let-down from them. This is partially because there’s no mention to the bombing of Japan, and how that impacted the Philippines, aside from it being the event that finally got the Japanese to surrender. The other disappointment is that I felt these parts were also trying to put in too much information, and it all felt a bit rushed.
Now normally, all these drawbacks might have made me give this novel a middling rating. However, two things kept me from doing so. First, as mentioned above, she did make me cry. Second, I found Hooper’s writing and characters to be strong enough to keep reading, even when certain things annoyed me. Therefore, I’m going to up this from my initial three stars to four out of five, and recommend it to people who – like me – know little about this arena of WWII, and who also want to learn about the heroic women in the Philippines during the war.
William Morrow – Harper Collins released “Angels of the Pacific” by Elise Hooper on March 8, 2022. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (both with free worldwide delivery), Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Kobo (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.