Among the Red Stars by Gwen C. Katz
World War Two has shattered Valka’s homeland of Russia, and Valka is determined to help the effort. She knows her skills as a pilot rival the best of the men, so when an all-female aviation group forms, Valka is the first to sign up.
Flying has always meant freedom and exhilaration for Valka, but dropping bombs on German soldiers from a fragile canvas biplane is no joyride. The war is taking its toll on everyone, including the boy Valka grew up with, who is fighting for his life on the front lines.
As the war intensifies and those around her fall, Valka must decide how much she is willing to risk to defend the skies she once called home.
Inspired by the true story of the airwomen the Nazis called Night Witches, Gwen C. Katz weaves a tale of strength and sacrifice, learning to fight for yourself, and the perils of a world at war.
True to form, I read this book at an RAF base while my boyfriend did pylon racing (I mean, Russia really wasn’t an option just to go read a book).
Among the Red Stars was one of those books I knew I needed to read, so I preordered it and then put it on my WWII shelf and didn’t read it for a long time. Reviews to do, books to read for x or y event, and then I wasn’t in the mood for it. I didn’t want to read it in the wrong mood because I knew it’d be a book I would love, and I wasn’t wrong.
The book takes you through two points of view. Valka as a young woman joining the one all female aviation group (who would later become known as the Night Witches, the women that gave Hitler nightmares). She takes you through the nuances of joining this force and of how training goes. And her narrative takes you through her journey as a Night Witch and what it entailed.
On the other hand, we have Pasha who is a gentle soul with a knack for radios, and who is now a soldier at the front. Both exchange letters, and through Pasha we learn a lot about the nuances of religion and what socialism meant to those born in it.
Valka talks more about what happened when you are suspected of being against the system. And she explores how the women of the aviation group were initially considered inferior by all the other regiments until they proved their worth and changed things around.
One of my favourite things is that there are all this gorgeous details about the aircraft (Po-2, which was later renamed U-2, this brought a long discussion between my boyfriend and me about why they renamed it and which one I was referring to) and the world of flying for the Soviet Union. But there are also everyday details like the women adjusting their own uniforms to fit, or Pasha learning to sign hyms through one of his fellow soldiers.
And it is also relatively “true” to the actual things that happened. I didn’t at any point feel like saying “woah, too many artistic liberties here”. Never had anything to complain, except that at first the whole “letter” and then narrative part was odd, but I got used to it quickly.
At the end there is a nice note explaining who inspired each character and which ones are based on real people that lived and fought and did the things they’re known for in the book.
If you’re a WWII enthusiast or an aircraft one, do read this, it is more than worth it!