‘The War Within’ by Yolanda Wallace
Author: Anna Furtado
October 9, 2014
The lives of four people intersect on Jekyll Island, Georgia during one summer in The War Within. The story is divided into two sections, one historical and one contemporary. The first section gives us the story of a young, idealistic nurse who has volunteered for duty during the Vietnam War. Idealism gives way to realism as Meredith Chase and her enigmatic new-found friend, nurse, Natalie Robinson, navigate the dangers of war and of feelings for Natalie that leave Meredith thrown off-kilter. As the story begins, this history is recounted by Meredith as she and her granddaughter, Jordan, travel from Wisconsin to Georgia for their annual summer vacation.
At twenty-one, Jordan has surprised her grandmother by actually wanting to continue their tradition of striking out to explore a new area of the United States again. Meredith was convinced that this would be the summer Jordan would want to spend her time off from college on the West coast with her friends, and most especially, with her girlfriend. However, Meredith is pleasantly surprised at Jordan’s call to make plans for their trip. In a happenstance move, Jordon has closed her eyes and pointed to Jekyll Island on a map, bringing up old memories for Meredith of a love lost a long time ago in Vietnam amidst war and destruction, cementing her relationship with a young man that would last over 40 years.
Meredith’s husband passed away several years earlier. Now, the older woman is resolved to find Natalie, whose last known location was on the very island that is their destination. During their travels, Jordan is faced with a reality she hasn’t wanted to acknowledge when her girlfriend makes their break-up final during a phone conversation and Meredith recounts her Vietnam days, peppered with war and a jumble of feelings that surprise her granddaughter.
In the second half of the story in present day on Jekyll Island, Meredith and Natalie meet by chance, and it remains to be seen if the sparks that fly are the good kind or the kind that could make the women run in the opposite direction. Additionally, Jordan, set adrift by recent events in her life, has a fated meeting with a former Marine confined to a wheelchair as a result of injuries during her service in Afghanistan. Now Jordan must decide if she will follow her heart—and if it will lead her toward or away from Tatum—in spite of Jordan’s anti-war leanings. What she doesn’t know is that Tatum has a connection to Natalie, and that all four women’s lives are about to become inextricably intertwined.
The characters in The War Within, both major and minor, are multi-dimensional. They are not without faults, which makes them all the more interesting. The historical accounts in war are told vividly and personally from the point of view of the younger versions of Meredith and Natalie. From battlefield encounters, to moments of sensual pleasure, to heartbreaking decisions and a separation that spans miles and years, the later-in-life meeting is one filled with renewed possibility and tinged with both humor and sadness. The relationship between Jordan and Tatum is revealing, running the gamut between frustratingly difficult and heartwarming. Each of these four women has baggage that needs to be unpacked before they can move forward. Wallace makes each character face her issues and learn to trust as she allows the story to unfold, wrapping tendrils around the reader’s heart and not letting go until well after the story has ended. There is only one editing issue in the story—the misuse of a name. Discounting that, The War Within has a masterpiece quality to it. It’s a story of the heart told with heart—a story to be savored—and proof that you’re never too old to find (or rediscover) true love.
The War Within
By Yolanda Wallace
Bold Strokes Books
Paperback, 9781626390744, 280 pp.