Luis Urrea's new novel is inspired by his mother's wartime experiences

Author headshot next to book cover
Luis Alberto Urrea's latest novel "Good Night, Irene" was inspired by his mother's service in World War II.
Courtesy JP Calubaquib and Hachette Book Group

Until writer Luis Alberto Urrea inherited his mother’s journals, he knew very little about what she’d seen and done in World War II. He knew she served on a team of Donut Dollies, women who volunteered with the Red Cross to provide mobile food, entertainment and comfort to U.S. servicemen station on many European battlefronts.

But he didn’t know she’d been on the front lines in one of the most ferocious battles, or that the nightmares she suffered her whole life stemmed from her experiences there. Like many people who’ve lived through extreme trauma, his mother mostly avoided the topic while she was alive.

As Urrea combed through her journals and scrapbooks after her death, he encountered a woman who was marked by her time serving as a Donut Dolly in the war. His new novel, “Good Night, Irene” is not a biography of his mother, but it is inspired by her courage and experiences.

This Friday, on Big Books and Bold Ideas, Urrea joined MPR News host Kerri Miller to tell stories about his mother and her fellow Donut Dollies. It’s a conversation about the power of friendship, the trauma of war, and why laughter might be the most important human quality.

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