Good Night, Irene

A Novel

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Pub Date May 30 2023 | Archive Date Apr 15 2024

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What if a friendship forged on the front lines of war defines a life forever? In the tradition ofThe Nightingale andTranscription, a searing epic based on the magnificent and true story of heroic Red Cross women.

“Urrea’s touch is sure, his exuberance carries you through . . . He is a generous writer, not just in his approach to his craft but in the broader sense of what he feels necessary to capture about life itself.” —Financial Times

In 1943, Irene Woodward abandons an abusive fiancé in New York to enlist with the Red Cross and head to Europe. She makes fast friends in training with Dorothy Dunford, a towering Midwesterner with a ferocious wit. Together they are part of an elite group of women, nicknamed Donut Dollies, who command military vehicles called Clubmobiles at the front line, providing camaraderie and a taste of home that may be the only solace before troops head into battle.
After D-Day, these two intrepid friends join the Allied soldiers streaming into France. Their time in Europe will see them embroiled in danger, from the Battle of the Bulge to the liberation of Buchenwald. Through her friendship with Dorothy, and a love affair with a courageous American fighter pilot named Hans, Irene learns to trust again. Her most fervent hope, which becomes more precarious by the day, is for all three of them to survive the war intact.
Taking as inspiration his mother’s own Red Cross service, Luis Alberto Urrea has delivered an overlooked story of women’s heroism in World War II. With its affecting and uplifting portrait of friendship and valor in harrowing circumstances, Good Night, Irene powerfully demonstrates yet again that Urrea’s “gifts as a storyteller are prodigious” (NPR).

What if a friendship forged on the front lines of war defines a life forever? In the tradition ofThe Nightingale andTranscription, a searing epic based on the magnificent and true story of heroic Red...

Advance Praise

“Good Night, Irene is a beautiful, heartfelt novel that celebrates the intense power and durability of female friendship while shining a light on one of the fascinating lost women’s stories of World War II. Inspired by his own family history—and his mother’s heroism as a Red Cross volunteer during the war—Luis Urrea has created an indelible portrait of women’s courage under extreme adversity. Powerful, uplifting, and deeply personal, Good Night, Irene is a story of survival, camaraderie, and courage on the front line.”
—Kristin Hannah, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Nightingale and The Four Winds

“A heart-wrenching wartime drama, a rich portrait of friendship, and an exploration of the trials and triumphs of the human spirit, Good Night, Irene is historical fiction at its finest. Using the little-known true story of women who worked behind the front lines for the Red Cross during World War II, Luis Alberto Urrea weaves a novel about the enduring bonds, devastating losses, and heroism of ordinary people who put their lives on the line for freedom. This is a story that needed to be told and remembered.”
—Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train and The Exiles

"With cinematic verisimilitude and deep emotional understanding, Urrea opens readers’ eyes to the female Red Cross volunteers who served overseas during WWII, delivering donuts, coffee, and homestyle friendliness to U.S. troops . . . WWII fiction fans, who have an abundance of options, should embrace Urrea's vivid, hard-hitting novel about the valiant achievements of these unsung wartime heroines."

"Urrea bends a fertile bough from his own family tree in Good Night Irene, a sweeping novel loosely based on his mother's experiences as a plucky, rebellious Red Cross volunteer with the so-called Donut Dollies on the battlefields of WWII, and the love stories — both romantic and platonic — that followed her home."
—Entertainment Weekly

“Good Night, Irene is a marvel of storytelling, wrenching at times, breathlessly entertaining at others, a testament both to Urrea’s sublime talent and to his mother’s incredible life, which inspired this extraordinary novel.”
—Jess Walter, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Beautiful Ruins

“Every once in a while the universe opens its heart and pulls out a book like this novel, gifting it to the cosmos. In Good Night, Irene, a new element has been created, and the literary world is reborn in the image of Luis Alberto Urrea. His voice comes alive on every page of this magnificent novel.”
—Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of The Many Daughters of Afong Moy and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

“A moving and graceful tribute to friendship and to heroic women who have shouldered the burdens of war.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Good Night, Irene isn’t just a marvelous novel, though it is indeed marvelous. It’s a marvelous novel that returns the brave Donut Dollies and the WWII Clubmobile Corps to their rightful place in history. With grace and compassion, Luis Alberto Urrea makes their story soar again.”
—Ann Hood, New York Times bestselling author of The Knitting Circle

“Good Night, Irene is a beautiful, heartfelt novel that celebrates the intense power and durability of female friendship while shining a light on one of the fascinating lost women’s stories of World...

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ISBN 9780316265850
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Featured Reviews

’Some think we’re so brave, but we really don’t know enough to be scared. Some people think we’re brats…some of us are. Some think we’d be better off at home, where a woman’s place used to be…about 200 years ago. Some stare, shake their heads in disbelief. Some cheer, some scream and wave—everybody greets us. Some wolf, some worship, some think you’re human and some don’t…You’re a Red Cross girl. You’re on the snow-and-charm circuit. You’re a griping, kidding GI. You’re personality on legs. - Anonymous World War II letter

Several years ago I read Urrea’s ’The House of Broken Angels’ and was impressed by his writing, his imagery and the way that it made it all seem so real to me. I would have to say that he’s outdone himself in his latest, ’Good Night, Irene’, a story which was inspired by his mother’s service as part of the Red Cross crew which traveled to the places in ’Good Night, Irene’ during World War II.

This story begins as America is beginning to become more involved in World War II, October 1943, and Irene was twenty-five. She’d just received her letter of acceptance and was still feeling a little giddy. She hadn’t told anyone, especially her parents, about applying and now, here she was, on her way to reporting for duty. She’d already left her engagement ring behind - in the storm drain on East Twenty-Eighth Street. In Washington, she will need to get her physical exam, and inoculations at the Pentagon. Her papers were at the bottom of her shoulder bag, and she’s ready to leave home. She knows she’s signed on for the duration of the war and an additional six months, with exceptions, but first she has to go through two weeks of training. She knows she will miss New York, but she feels like she is ready for this, as though it is an adventure.

All that I’ve shared takes place in the first chapter or so, and there is much more to this story, but I will only say that this is one you won’t want to miss. This is a World War II story, but it is also so much more, a story of friendship, love, family, war, loss as well as a lifelong journey.

Pub Date: 30 May 2023

Many thanks for the ARC provided by Little, Brown and Company

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What a revelation for me to find out that women actually enlisted for World War II service with the American Red Cross! Until reading this beautifully written novel,, chronicling the lives of Donut Dollies working the front lines, I foolishly assumed that coffee serving volunteers had light social responsibilities. Instead, these brave and generous souls, put their lives on the line at the same battlefields on which the GIs fought.
Luis Alberto Urrea, taking a little known chapter from his mother’s Red Cross service, weaves a tale of friendship, love, courage, and honor. Irene Woodward enlists as a Red Cross worker in 1943. She abruptly leaves her home and family in New York to escape from an abusive husband. Dorothy Danforth, becomes her work partner, friend and confidante as the two serve coffee and donuts, bringing a bit of home comfort, to soldiers fighting on the front line. Irene and Dot forge a bond solid enough to last a lifetime, while sharing intimate thoughts and moments together as best friends. Romance beckons when Irene becomes involved with an heroic American fighter pilot, Hans (Hands). The two plan to find each other when the war is over.
Urrea describes in depth what life at the front was like. He sweeps us from small towns in France and Belgium, right into battle, up into the blazing skies, then to the unimaginable horrors of Buchenwald, and the despair of makeshift battle front “ hospitals.” The details were so descriptive that I found myself feeling the emotional roller coaster that the characters were living.
Right up until the very end, I was captivated by the exquisite writing, which had me wondering how life would treat these characters in whom I had invested so much feeling. For lovers of historical fiction, this novel will be a treat. I thank #NetGalley and publisher, #Little,Brown and Company for providing me with an advance copy of this book in return for an honest review b

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