The Wartime Sisters

Written by Lynda Cohen Loigman
Review by Hilary Daninhirsch

Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1920s and ’30s, Ruth and Millie are as opposite as sisters can be. While Ruth is plain, Millie is beautiful. Ruth is the sensible one, while Millie is the spontaneous one. Ruth is an excellent student, while Millie only gets by in school. Even their husbands are as different as night and day: Millie marries a handsome but shady and unreliable man, while Ruth’s husband is not as attractive but is a good provider. Underlying their relationship is a current of jealousy and a mutual feeling of never measuring up to the other.

When Millie’s husband goes off to fight in World War II, leaving her to raise her child alone, she is forced to move in with Ruth’s family in Massachusetts, where Ruth helps her obtain employment with the Springfield Armory. Buried childhood resentments reemerge, as Millie becomes the darling of Ruth’s social circle. Both women are hiding secrets that could prove devastating.

Other colorful characters get a voice, which adds depth to the story and highlights how wartime circumstances have different effects on people. There is Arietta, the Armory chef who doubles as a talented singer, and Lillian, another Springfield resident whose standing in the community is elevated due to her husband’s high rank within the Armory.

The story drew me in from the very beginning, though I did have high expectations, having previously read Loigman’s first, equally stellar novel, The Two-Family House. The heartfelt and utterly engrossing story tackles such issues as sex discrimination, unequal treatment of children, and the repercussions of keeping secrets and holding grudges. Ultimately, the book is a triumphant tale of healing and is a fine addition to literature set in the World War II era.