Some books are just important. Important to read, to feel, to remember. Some books remind us where we came from and how much we have gained. Some books can lift us up in a time of darkness and remind us how strong we are to have gotten where we are. “The Liberators of Willow Run” By Marianne K. Martin is one of those books, and reading it right now reminds us of the giant strides all women have made to take control of their lives, that lesbians have made in fighting to be open and equal.
Set in the Second World War we have two threads, a ‘Rosie The Riveter’ working at the B-24 Bomber plant in Detroit along with her mixed team of men, women, and the wonderfully self-possessed Nona, an African American woman determined to make her way in the world despite her skin colour and her gender. Our “Rosie” is Audrey, heartbroken, hidden and determined to keep her independence.
The second thread brings us Ruth, entombed in a home for pregnant girls with a bullying matron and daily doses of moral education meant to teach the girls a lesson and set them on the ‘right’ road to marriage and social acceptability. Ruth is all too aware of the mistakes she has made, but they aren’t quite the ones Matron is bashing them all for.
Audrey feels she will never have the chance of love and settles in with work to fill her life, and friendship with Nona to fill her social time. Ruth escapes the home and family determined to set up on her own. Both have a huge amount of pain to deal with in a harsh world, where their crimes are simply being who they are. And both have something to prove – that they are strong enough to not only fight their own demons but help others along the “Willow Run.”
The characters are deep and rounded, the relationships and friendships realistic and well drawn. The story flows, the drama is real and the history detailed and yet not overwhelming with facts and figures but integrated skillfully into these women’s lives.
We ache for the pain of the girls in the home, we fight along with Audrey and Nona for their team to not only top the production line figures every day, but to stand up for each other across gender and racial boundaries. And most of all we want Ruth and Audrey to find peace from the pain of their pasts. And yet all along we somehow wait for the other shoe to drop, hoping against hope that nothing will tear their worlds apart.
An enthralling read, a genuine glimpse into life in the 40’s, a world of secrecy, fear and a constant fight for basic self-determination. This should be compulsory reading for every lesbian in the US struggling to hold on to hope in the face of a fascist administration. We fought then and we will fight to hold on to those gains. No matter what ‘executive orders’ are signed, we will not be put back into those boxes.
Excellent and uplifting historical romance, a genuine classic.