One of our recommended books is The Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman

THE WARTIME SISTERS

A Novel


For fans of Lilac Girls, the next powerful novel from the author of Goodreads Choice Awards semifinalist The Two-Family House about two sisters working in a WWII armory, each with a deep secret.

Two estranged sisters, raised in Brooklyn and each burdened with her own shocking secret, are reunited at the Springfield Armory in the early days of WWII. While one sister lives in relative ease on the bucolic Armory campus as an officer’s wife, the other arrives as a war widow and takes a position in the Armory factories as a “soldier of production.” Resentment festers between the two,

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For fans of Lilac Girls, the next powerful novel from the author of Goodreads Choice Awards semifinalist The Two-Family House about two sisters working in a WWII armory, each with a deep secret.

Two estranged sisters, raised in Brooklyn and each burdened with her own shocking secret, are reunited at the Springfield Armory in the early days of WWII. While one sister lives in relative ease on the bucolic Armory campus as an officer’s wife, the other arrives as a war widow and takes a position in the Armory factories as a “soldier of production.” Resentment festers between the two, and secrets are shattered when a mysterious figure from the past reemerges in their lives.

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  • St. Martin's Griffin
  • Paperback
  • March 2020
  • 336 Pages
  • 9781250140715

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$16.99

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About Lynda Cohen Loigman

Lynda Cohen Loigman is the author of The Wartime Sisters, credit Randy MelusowLynda Cohen Loigman grew up in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. She received a B.A. in English and American Literature from Harvard College and a law degree from Columbia Law School. Lynda practiced trusts and estates law in New York City for eight years before moving out of the city to raise her two children with her husband. She wrote The Two-Family House while she was a student of the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College. The Two-Family House was chosen by Goodreads as a best book of the month for March, 2016, and was nominee for the Goodreads 2016 Choice Awards in Historical Fiction. The Wartime Sisters is her second novel.

Praise

“Loigman’s strong voice and artful prose earn her a place in the company of Alice Hoffman and Anita Diamant, whose readers should flock to this wondrous new book.”—Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Orphan’s Tale

The Wartime Sisters shows the strength of women on the home front: to endure, to fight, and to help each other survive.” —Jenna Blum, New York Times and international bestselling author of The Lost Family and Those Who Save Us

“Loigman’s second novel portrays a sampling of the women whose roles were pivotal during the wartime manufacturing boom…[and] highlights historic advances for women.” Kirkus

“With a perceptive lens on the challenges of whittling away grievances that have built up over years, The Wartime Sisters is a powerful pressure cooker of a family drama.” Booklist

“With measured, lucid prose, Loigman tells a moving story of women coming together in the face of difficulties, both personal and global, and doing anything to succeed.” Publishers Weekly

“Readers will enjoy the heartfelt picture of women’s daily life during wartime through the eyes of two extraordinary sisters. Recommended for historical fiction fans of Pam Jenoff and Kate Morton.” Library Journal

“Historical fiction fans will love Lynda Cohen Loigman’s The Wartime Sisters—a fresh take on the World War II novel. Sisters Ruth and Millie find themselves back in each other’s lives after a long estrangement when Millie and her son turn up on Ruth’s doorstep needing a place to stay. While the two help the war effort by working at an armory factory in Massachusetts, their past secrets bubble to the surface.” Real Simple

“Ruth and Millie may be sisters, but they’ve never been close. But when World War Two brings them together again, they find themselves further apart than ever. Can they ever break free of their childhood roles? And will they ever come together when they need each other most? The Wartime Sisters is an emotionally honest story about the complexity of family.” Popsugar

The Wartime Sisters is an indictment of how we judge others by their looks. Lynda Loigman explores the roles women played during World War II and won freedom. Never ever the role of women during World War II was explained in such a brilliant way in a book of fiction.” The Washington Book Review

Discussion Questions

1. What is it about the sisters’ relationship that makes it so ripe for storytelling?

2. Throughout their childhood, Ruth and Millie’s mother has vastly different expectations for them, especially in terms of the kind of men they will marry. Do you think she bears some of the blame for the poor relationship between her daughters? What about their father?

3. When Millie first meets Lenny, she is lonely and mourning the loss of her neighbor. Why else do you think Millie falls for Lenny? Why does she agree to marry him?

4. Do you think it was wrong of Ruth’s mother to expect her to bring Millie with her to her new home? Why was it so important for Ruth to have a fresh start in Springfield? Did being Jewish make it harder for Ruth to fit in at the armory?

5. Do you think Ruth’s lies to Lenny and her sister are excusable? If you were Millie, would you ever be able to forgive Ruth for what she did?

6. Do you think Millie’s secrets about Lenny and her marriage are more or less justifiable than the secrets Ruth keeps?

7. In what ways do Arietta and Lillian serve as substitute sisters for Millie? Why do you think they are so protective of her? How does the war bring these women together?

8. How does Lillian’s past shape her as an adult? Do you think she would have been able to defend Millie the way she does at the end of the story had it not been for her own unfortunate childhood experiences?

9. Ruth and Millie can’t seem to escape the roles they took on as children. Do you think family members always fall into set patterns of behavior? Can the patterns ever be broken, or are we destined to play the same roles within our family units from childhood through old age?

10. When Millie first arrives in Springfield, she has no money and almost no luggage. Do you think Ruth truly understands Millie’s predicament? Should she have been more generous? Why are class differences among adult family members so difficult to overcome?

11. How do Grace’s prejudices affect her actions? Why do you think she was so jealous of Millie? Should Ruth have come to her sister’s defense sooner?

12. Do you think Millie and Ruth will be able to move beyond their past grievances and have a sincere and positive relationship in the future?

Excerpt

Ruth

Brooklyn, New York (1919–1932)

Ruth was three years old when her sister was born. Like most firstborn children, Ruth assumed her younger sibling would be a miniature version of herself. She would have straight hair, brown eyes, and a soft, gentle voice. She would love books and numbers, and the two of them would be inseparable.It didn’t take long for Ruth to realize her mistake.

When Ruth’s mother felt up to it, she invited a small group of friends and relatives to the apartment. Packed into the small front room, nibbling on kichel and sipping glasses of tea, the visitors stared at the baby like tourists in a museum. “What do you call the color of those curls? Reddish like that—isn’t there a name for it? And my God, those eyes! Who knew eyes could be so blue. Keinehora, Florence!” one of the cousins shouted. “You’ve finally got yourself a beauty!”

Ruth’s mother was too distracted to notice the pitying looks her older daughter received from the downstairs neighbors. But Ruth had a glimmer of what the “finally” meant.

That evening, Ruth complained to her father about the fuss everyone made. He patted her head and told her not to worry. “This is life, mameleh. People like babies. When babies grow up, people lose interest.”

“When I was born, did they all say I was beautiful too?”

“Abso-lutely,” he answered. “Such a kvestion!” Her father’s accent was more noticeable when he was nervous or excited. It was especially conspicuous, Ruth knew, when he lied.

* * *

To six-year-old Ruth’s great disappointment, there was nothing that Millie hated more than being read to. She covered her ears with her short, chubby fingers and held her breath dramatically until Ruth was silent. When Ruth expressed her dismay at her sister’s tantrums, her mother brushed it off. “Not everyone is a bookworm like you are,” she said.

When they were older, Millie would wait by the windows of their apartment, watching for activity on the sidewalk below. As soon as the neighborhood girls started their games of hopscotch or jump rope, Millie bolted out the door and ran down the steps to join them. It didn’t matter that Ruth had just picked a puzzle for them to put together or that Millie had promised to play house with her after that. While Ruth sulked in her bedroom, her mother gave her some advice. “If you can’t learn to let your sister be, the two of you will never get along.”

The fact was, the two girls had little in common. Ruth liked to be early for school each day, but Millie dawdled in the mornings and made them both late. Ruth kept her half of their bedroom neat, while Millie’s side was littered with paper dolls and crayons. With a different girl, such flaws might have drawn greater attention, but with Millie, no one seemed to notice or care. Their mother tidied the bedroom without a word of complaint, and no matter how late Millie was when she walked into her classroom, the elementary school teacher always marked her on time.

The sisters had opposite temperaments too—something it took Ruth longer to comprehend. Ruth was the steady one, disciplined and composed. She had always been proud of the way she could control her emotions, but eventually, she was made to understand that this wasn’t a quality everyone admired. She learned this lesson at her great-aunt Edna’s funeral, on a cloudy April morning just after she’d turned ten. Aunt Edna was their father’s aunt—a woman they saw just a few times a year. She appeared mostly at holidays and the occasional Sabbath dinner. Ruth was sorry that she had died, but she didn’t know the woman well enough to truly mourn her passing. Ruth sat quietly in the synagogue, half listening to the rabbi’s words and wishing she’d been allowed to bring one of her books from home to pass the time.

Millie, on the other hand, was utterly bereft. Sandwiched between their mother and Ruth, the seven-year-old listened to the eulogy with the kind of concentration Ruth didn’t know Millie could muster. When the rabbi spoke about Edna’s childhood in Poland, Millie’s sniffles turned to sobs and her whole body shook. Their mother tried to soothe her, but there was no calming the girl. Soon, her cries were so loud that they drowned out the rabbi’s voice.

It was Ruth who took Millie by the hand and led her out of the chapel. It was Ruth who wiped Millie’s eyes with the handkerchief from her skirt pocket and Ruth who made her blow her nose to stop the snot from running down her face. As they waited together in the synagogue’s drafty vestibule, Ruth asked her sister why she was so upset.

“Why do you keep crying? You barely knew her.”

“Because she’s dead,” Millie bawled. “She was a little girl like me, and then she got old and died.”

“But she lived a long life. That’s what the rabbi said.”

“I don’t care how long it was. I’m never getting old.”

“You have to grow up sometime.” Ruth hadn’t meant for the words to come out sounding the way they did—more like a threat than a friendly observation.

Millie slid to the opposite end of the hard, wooden bench and stuck out her tongue. “Maybe you do,” she said, “but I don’t.”

When the service was over and all the relatives gathered together at Edna’s apartment, Ruth thought someone might thank her for calming the disruption her sister created at the synagogue. But instead, it was Millie who garnered all the praise. Mourners brought her plates of cookies and thick slices of challah, clucking to their mother about what a sensitive and sympathetic child she was. No one looked at Ruth or offered her a plate; no one complimented her quick thinking. On her way to the bathroom, she overheard a trio of women talking about her. “The older sister is a real cold fish,” one of them said. Only later did Ruth understand what the term really meant. At the time, she’d only shivered and buttoned her cardigan over her dress.

* * *

The more responsible Ruth proved to be, the more it was held against her. Her exceptional report cards created such elevated expectations that when she received an A minus, her parents seemed disappointed. If she ever lost a hair ribbon or a button on her dress, her mother threw up her hands and complained about the waste. Meanwhile, Millie’s poor grades were never discussed. And when Millie lost two library books—books she hadn’t even read—her mother paid to replace them without a word of reproach. The fee was not inconsequential, and there was little to spare in the Kaplan household. But when Ruth grumbled about the cost, her mother defended her younger sister. “No one is perfect, Ruth. People make mistakes.”

The discrepancy in treatment shaped Ruth’s childhood. Years later, when she tried to explain it to her husband, she struggled for a long time to find the right words. Though Ruth’s tiny transgressions were few and far between, they never seemed to escape her mother’s notice. Any misstep Ruth made was a short, shallow wrinkle on an otherwise smooth and pristine tablecloth. Millie’s slipups, by contrast, were like a full glass of burgundy tipped over onto clean white damask. To their mother’s discerning eye, Ruth’s wrinkles were conspicuous. But her sister’s stains were overlooked and hastily covered—anything so that the meal could continue being served.

* * *

The girls’ teenage years brought more hurtful comparisons. Even before she entered high school, Millie’s curves and auburn curls turned men’s heads on their block in Brooklyn. But with her pin-straight hair and even straighter figure, the only heads Ruth turned belonged to the balding, middle-aged men from her father’s pinochle game. “Tell Morris we’ll see him on Tuesday,” they said.

By the time Millie turned thirteen, more than a few older boys had asked her for dates. To keep them at bay, their father enacted an ironclad rule: neither of his daughters was allowed to date before turning sixteen. While the rule was supposedly meant for both girls, Ruth’s social life never required its enforcement.

One Friday afternoon, a few months after Ruth’s sixteenth birthday, her mother was busier than usual in the kitchen. A pot of mushroom barley soup simmered on the stove, filling the room with a rich, earthy scent. Two fresh loaves of challah had been set out to cool. As Ruth did her homework at the small kitchen table, she watched her mother pull an apple cake from the oven.

“You’re making an awful lot of food for just us,” Ruth observed.

“We’re having company tonight—Mrs. Rabinowitz and her grandson are coming.” Ruth’s mother looked away when she made the announcement, busying herself with the chicken she had left on the counter. She seasoned the skin with salt and pepper, all the while taking pains to ignore Ruth’s fretful gaze. Though she had tried her best to make the news sound unremarkable, there was no way to disguise its significance.

“Her grandson?” Ruth questioned, chewing nervously on the back of her pencil.

“Mrs. Rabinowitz says he’s a very bright boy.”

“Well, if his grandmother said so, he must be a genius.”

“Don’t be such a comedian,” her mother snapped, slamming the oven door shut. “Now, put away your books and help me set the table. They’ll be here in an hour, and I want everything ready. You’ll have time to change your dress after.”

“Why do I have to change?”

A weary sigh escaped her mother’s lips. “You’ll put on the blue dress and a little bit of lipstick. It’s not going to kill you to dress up for company.”

Ruth was so out of sorts that she hadn’t even noticed her sister entering the kitchen. “We’re having company?” Millie asked. “Do I have to change too?”

Their mother shook her head. “Not you. Just your sister.”

* * *

Ruth hated to admit it, but the grandson was handsome. His lightly tousled hair was just a fraction too long, in a way that appealed to mothers and daughters alike. His build was athletic, but not overly slim. Ruth learned that he would be graduating from high school in a few months and starting at City College in the fall.

Copyright © 2019 by Lynda Cohen Loigman