Set during the chaotic years of World War II, The General's Women tells the story of the conflicted relationship between General Dwight Eisenhower and Kay Summersby, his Irish driver/aide, and the impact of that relationship on Mamie Eisenhower and her life in Washington during the war. Told from three alternating points of view (Kay's, Ike's, and Mamie's), the novel charts the deepening of the relationship as Ike and Kay move from England to North Africa to England, France, and Germany before and after the Normandy landing. At the end of the war, Ike is faced with the heart-wrenching choice between marrying Kay and a political future.
The story continues into the post-war years, as Ike (returning to Mamie) becomes Army chief of staff, president of Columbia University, supreme commander of NATO, and president of the United States. Kay, meanwhile, struggles to create a life and work of her own, writing two memoirs: the first (Eisenhower Was My Boss, 1948) about her war work with Ike; the second (Past Forgetting, 1976) about their love affair. An author's note deals with the complicated question of the truth of Kay's story as it appeared in the posthumously published Past Forgetting.
Is there anything you would change about this book?
Nothing about the book itself (two thumbs up). See below about the performance (thumbs down). I read this book, and loved it. Because it would bear re-reading, I got the Audible edition for my second run-through. Unfortunate choice, as it turns out.
Who was your favorite character and why?
Ike. He was maddening, driven, brilliant, hot-tempered but quick to apologize, a stickler for military protocol but warm-hearted with midwestern American egalitarian instincts. He was a middle-aged Army officer handed an unimaginable job (Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force) and brilliant enough to perform it. But I think he muddled his handling of his relationship with Kay Summersby, and the very muddling convinces me he was deeply in love with her. In the later months of the war, he even risked his career as he tried to find a way to go forward with her after the war was over. There's enough historical smoke to support this fictional treatment of the possible fire that was behind it.
How could the performance have been better?
This is no criticism of the narrator. She did a great job.But I found this audiobook so irritating that I couldn't finish it. The problem is that someone in charge of producing the audiobook was lazy. They must have skimmed the text, seen references to Kay Summersby as Irish, and decided she spoke in a pronounced Irish brogue. The problem is, Kay Summersby was a real person, Anglo-Irish, daughter of a British Army Officer, who passed up being a debutante in London in favor of traveling through Europe. She lived in London from her teenaged years on, was definitely upper-class, and would never have spoken with that Irish accent. Kay was interviewed later in life on video, and there are clips of her speaking on two episodes of the seminal TV series The World at War (from the 1970's). By then her speech was somewhat Americanized, but it's still an English accent, not that Irish brogue. In this audiobook Kay sounds like a naive Irish schoolgirl. She was nothing of the sort. When she met Ike, she was 33 years old, a former House of Worth model, an outgoing, very social upper-class Brit. She'd been married briefly and was in the process of a divorce. She was beautiful, gracious, and discreet. Honestly, I gritted my teeth at the umpteenth iteration in this performance of "Yes, sir!" in that ridiculous breathless Irish brogue.
Did The General’s Women inspire you to do anything?
To learn more about both Kay and Ike - as the new stack of books on my table attests.
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