Daughters of the Night Sky

Written by Aimie K. Runyan
Review by Waheed Rabbani

In the Soviet Union in 1941, Stalin has declared equal rights for women, but they still experience discrimination. Nevertheless, 20-year-old Katya manages to follow her childhood dream. She trains for her pilot’s wings at the Chelyabinsk Military Aviation School and flourishes despite the instructors’ preferential treatment of male cadets. While still learning to be a navigator, she befriends a pilot, Vanya, who teaches her to fly Polikarpovs—fragile biplanes more suitable for crop-dusting than dropping bombs. They fall in love and get married, but following the German invasion, they’re soon separated and assigned to different fronts. Katya joins the 588th Night Bomber Regiment. This air unit, comprising only of women, is so effective in harassing and destroying the German supply lines that they are nicknamed the “Night Witches.” While surviving the hardships of war, the night sorties, and the lack of decent accommodation and food, Katya dreams of reuniting with Vanya.

Aimie K. Runyan has based this historical novel on the relatively unknown stories of the USSR’s female fliers, who were highly decorated for their WWII service. The narrative in Katya’s first-person voice is not only atmospheric but also provides intimate details of the Russian people’s habits and living conditions during the wartime years. The secondary storylines of Katya’s sisters-in-arms present more fascinating details on their dedicated efforts, particularly when they improvise to increase their nightly sorties with their ill-equipped bombers and make do with ill-fitting uniforms and oversized shoes. While Katya’s determination and sacrifices are amply apparent, she shows one surprising moment of weakness, which also serves to demonstrate her human side. Somewhat like a classic Russian novel, the ending is compelling but seems a bit protracted. An enjoyable read.