Aimie K. Runyan Revisits the War
The Second World War may not have lasted all that long in objective terms, but the amount of incredible stories it brought with it would take much longer to recount than the event itself. There are countless who played unique and irreplaceable roles in the conflict, and women were certainly part of that group. Even though at the time the prevalent mindset was that women ought to stay at home and were only capable of raising a family, they quickly proved everyone just how wrong they were about that, engaging in the war effort in countless ways ranging from factory work to frontline combat. In her book Daughters of the Night Sky , Aimie K. Runyan tells the specific story of Katya Ivanova, a legendary bomber pilot who overcame adversity every step of the way so that she may serve her country, and perhaps inadvertently, womankind in general.
Just to give you an idea of the path her life followed, ever since Katya was a child she dreamt of becoming a pilot and escape a relatively bleak life in the Ural mountains. However, it’s not until the Nazis start knocking at the front door that she sees a path to realizing her ambitions. Passing her training in the military academy (with a lot of resistance from her teachers, of course), she is finally accepted into the Soviet Union’s 588th Night Bomber Regiment, comprised entirely of women. Together, they carve a name and reputation for themselves as the “Night Witches”, accumulating the toll of a brutal and unforgiving campaign that marked them in different ways.
The Definition of Historical Fiction
When looking at historical fiction books, many authors have the tendency to loosely base their stories around certain large events and just use their imagination rather than research to fill in any gaps they might come across, basically using the genre’s label as a marketing ploy rather than anything else. On the other hand, we have authors like Aimie K. Runyan who lend credence to the terms “historical fiction”, preferring to do some actual research to bring accurate and verifiable facts to the table. Indeed, Runyan did her homework when it comes to life in the Soviet Union back in those days, the attitude towards women in the military, the ramifications of the seemingly indomitable Nazi war machine, the post-war effects of the all-women’s bomber regiment, and so on and so forth. She also tries to present that time and place, alien to most of us, in a recognizable and relatable way, taking the time to explain it all from a modern perspective.
Now with that being said, it is a work of fiction after all, and it’s mostly apparent when it comes to the drama. As you might imagine, this book is highly focused on the women, their relationships with men and each other, as well as all the feelings they experience as they traverse a most harrowing path in life. In these moments it becomes quite obvious that the author’s imagination took the reigns and to be frank, it’s just not the type of subject matter which interests me greatly. From an objective point of view however, I feel that these internal explorations are indeed written with actual depth and will be pleasant to those who are into that sort of thing.
The Two Fronts
One of the main recurring themes in the book is the adversity which these women had to face in the military, and I feel like their struggle has been very convincingly encompassed by the author. We get to feel the same resistance Katya did from a very early age when her teacher tried to squash her dreams by reminding her that a woman’s place is at home next to her husband and children. We feel the gauntlet of agony she had to go through growing up, in a world surrounded by people who wanted to see her fail, even though they ultimately labelled her as one of their own. Her pride and determination are well-captured and inspiring to say the least.
This may be a novel that takes place during the Second World War, but if you look beneath the surface I feel like the Aimie K. Runyan used the backdrop to try and bring us a message about the importance of following your dreams wherever they might lead you and bravely standing headstrong in the face of any adversity. Giving up is the last thing you should ever do, and if anything reading about what these women had to face will make your own problems and obstacles feel rather insignificant.
As for the actual war itself, we are treated to tidbits of information here and there to help us follow its course, but for the most part the events take place behind the frontlines and are focused on the exploration of human life in those conditions, rather than the actual battles themselves. In other words, this feels more like a novel about a specific group of women that happened to exist during WWII, rather than the actual war itself.
The Final Verdict
With all that’s been covered, I think it’s safe to say that Daughters of the Night Sky is the kind of historical fiction that will appeal to those who prefer the exploration of characters and their inner worlds rather than actual events. It’s certainly unique in the sense that it delves into a specific microcosm of the war that is today forgotten by many, detailing a struggle many forgot ever existed. If you feel like reading about night bombing women of the Soviet Union and all the gruelling obstacles they had to overcome, then I certainly recommend you check this book out.
Aimie K. Runyan is an American author whose of historical fiction writings have always centered on the unsung heroines throughout human history. She is also an active speaker as well as a member of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Her works have been widely celebrated so far, and include Daughters of the Night Sky and the Daughters of New France series.